IMO orders study to assess impact of Erika proposals

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has commissioned a study to assess the likely impact of proposals, made in the wake of the Erika incident, to advance the dates for the phasing out of single hulled oil tankers.

"A number of IMO Member States have submitted proposals to accelerate the phasing out of older, single hull tankers. But we need to make sure that all the relevant information is in the hands of our Members when they are considering the proposed changes to the regulations which were themselves adopted only after much debate and discussion, " IMO Secretary-General Mr. William A. O'Neil said.

The proposals to IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), which meets 2-6 October 2000, would speed up the existing phase-out schedule for older, single hull tankers, as laid out in Regulation 13 G of Annex I (Oil) of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 relating thereto (MARPOL 73/78).

Some observers have expressed concern about the impact the changes might have on the world’s tanker fleet and, more importantly, on its ability to ensure that supplies of oil can meet global demands.

The study, commissioned on the initiative of Mr. O'Neil, is intended to assess the impact of the proposals year-by-year, taking into account the:

  • volume of oil and oil products carried worldwide and by region;

  • number of single-hull tankers to be affected by the proposals;

  • shipyard capacity needed to replace the single hull tankers that would be withdrawn from service and the capacity available worldwide;

  • year-on-year scrapping capacity of ship recycling facilities; as well as other criteria.

The study will be carried out by the IMO secretariat, assisted by industry experts nominated by industry organizations, who will act as an informal group co-ordinated by the Marine Environment Division of IMO. The Group is expected to draw on the expertise and experience of all available sources, including IMO Member Governments and international organizations.

The study is intended to facilitate the consideration of proposals by the Marine Environment Protection Committee against a full background of relevant information. It has to be completed within a very short period of time in order to make it available for the members of the Committee in advance of their meeting in October 2000.

"Above all, we must ensure a united, global response to the issues raised by the Erika sinking," said Mr. O'Neil.

"Any attempt to impose regional standards will simply divert the problem elsewhere. If the European Union, for example, imposes its own restrictions on tankers, we should not expect the ships that are displaced will go straight to the scrapyard. They will simply move to trade elsewhere."

The 37,238-dwt tanker Erika broke in two in heavy seas off the coast of Brittany, France, on 12 December 1999 while carrying approximately 30,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil. The crew was saved, but some 14,000 tonnes of oil were spilled and more than 100 miles of Atlantic coastline were polluted.

Belgium, France and Germany have jointly submitted a proposal for amendments to Regulation 13G of MARPOL aimed advancing the dates of the phasing out of single hull oil tankers. The age limits proposed are either lower than those currently provided for under Regulation 13G, or apply to categories of oil tankers which, on account of their size, are not currently covered by this regulation.

The "double hull" requirements for oil tankers were introduced in March 1992, when IMO adopted amendments to Annex I of MARPOL 73/78 which introduced two new regulations, 13F and 13G, relating to standards for the design and construction of new and existing oil tankers (resolution MEPC.52 (32)).

  • Under regulation 13F, oil tankers delivered on or after 6 July 1996 had to comply with double hull requirements or with equivalent design standards.

  • Under regulation 13G, single hull oil tankers of 20,000 tons deadweight and above or of 30,000 tons deadweight and above (according to the products carried), delivered before 6 July 1996, had to comply with the double hull requirements or with equivalent design standards defined in regulation 13F not later than 25 years, or in some cases 30 years, after their date of delivery.

Under the current regulation, existing single hull oil tankers which do not comply with requirements relating to segregated ballast tanks with protective location (applicable from 1982), will no longer be permitted under regulation 13G of MARPOL 73/78 to operate after 2007 (1982+25), or in certain cases 2012 (1982+30), unless they comply with the double hull requirements or equivalent design standards of regulation 13F. For existing single hull oil tankers which do comply with requirements relating to segregated ballast tanks with protective location, this deadline will be reached by 2026 (1996+30) at the latest.