MEPC adopts MARPOL amendments to delete tainting as pollutant criterion

Marine Environment Protection Committee - 44th session: 6-13 March 2000

 The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization has adopted amendments to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 relating thereto (MARPOL 73/78) Annex III (Prevention of Pollution by Harmful Substances Carried by Sea in Packaged Form) to delete tainting as a criterion for marine pollutants from the Guidelines for the identification of harmful substances in packaged form.

Tainting refers to the ability of a product to be taken up by an organism and thereby affect the taste or smell of seafood making it unpalatable. A substance is defined as tainting when it has been found to taint seafood.

The amendments were approved at the last MEPC session in June-July 1999.

The amendments will mean that products identified as being marine pollutants solely on the basis of their tainting properties will no longer be classified as marine pollutants.

Annex III of MARPOL applies to all ships carrying harmful substances in packaged form, or in freight containers, portable tanks or road and rail tank wagons. The regulations require the issuing of detailed standards on packaging, marking, labelling, documentation, stowage, quantity limitations, exceptions and notifications, for preventing or minimizing pollution by harmful substances.

"Harmful substances" covered by Annex III are those substances which are identified as marine pollutants in the IMO International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG Code).

The amendments were adopted at the 44th session of the MEPC which met 6 to 13 March 2000 at the London headquarters of IMO, the United Nations agency concerned with ship safety and the prevention of marine pollution.

Concurrently with the MEPC, from 9 to 15 March IMO also hosted a Diplomatic Conference which adopted a Protocol on Preparedness, Response and Co-operation to Pollution Incidents by Hazardous and Noxious Substances.

 Anti-fouling Systems

The MEPC's anti-fouling Working Group continued work on developing a legal instrument to regulate the use of shipboard anti-fouling systems, in particular to phase out those containing organotins such as tributyltin (TBT). It will be further considered at the Committee's next session (2-6 October 2000) when the draft text will be considered on an article by article basis.

The IMO Assembly in November 1999 approved the holding of a diplomatic conference in 2001 to adopt the proposed instrument. It is tentatively scheduled to be held from 22-26 October.

The Working Group has already developed the basic structure of a proposed legal instrument to effect the phasing out of organotins acting as biocides in antifouling systems on ships, while the Assembly adopted resolution A.895 (21) Anti-fouling systems used on ships.

The resolution states that the MEPC should develop a global legally-binding instrument to address the harmful effects of anti-fouling systems used on ships.

It adds that the global instrument should ensure a global prohibition on the application of organotin compounds which act as biocides in anti-fouling systems on ships by 1 January 2003, and a complete prohibition on the presence of organotin compounds which act as biocides in anti-fouling systems on ships by 1 January 2008.

Antifouling paints are used to coat the bottoms of ships to prevent sealife such as algae and molluscs attaching themselves to the hull - thereby slowing down the ship and increasing fuel consumption. In the early days of sailing ships, lime and later arsenic was used to coat ships' hulls, until the modern chemicals industry developed effective antifouling paints using metallic compounds.

The compounds slowly "leach" into the sea water, killing barnacles and other marine life that have attached to the ship - but studies have shown that these compounds persist in the water, killing sealife, harming the environment and possibly entering the food chain. One of the most effective antifouling paints, developed in the 1960s to 1970s, contains the organotin tributyltin (TBT), which has been proven to cause deformations in oysters and sex changes in whelks.

The harmful environmental effects of organotin compounds were recognized by IMO in 1990, when the Marine Environment Protection committee (MEPC) adopted a resolution which recommended that Governments adopt measures to eliminate the use of antifouling paint containing TBT on non-aluminium hulled vessels of less than 25 metres in length and eliminate the use of antifouling paints with a leaching rate of more than 4 microgrammes of TBT per day.

Alternatives to TBT paint include copper-based coatings and silicon-based paints, which make the surface of the ship slippery so that sealife will be easily washed off as the ship moves through water. Further development of alternative anti-fouling systems is being carried out. Underwater cleaning systems avoid the ship having to be put into dry dock for ridding the hull of sealife, while ultrasonic or electrolytic devices may also work to rid the ship of foulants.


Harmful aquatic organisms in ballast water

Another MEPC Working Group continued developing draft new regulations for ballast water management.

The proposed new regulations are intended to address the environmental damage caused by the introduction of harmful aquatic organisms in ballast water, used to stabilize vessels at sea. Globally, it is estimated that about 10 billion tonnes of ballast water is transferred each year.

The water taken on board for ballasting a vessel may contain aquatic organisms, including dormant stages of microscopic toxic aquatic organisms - such as dinoflagellates, which may cause harmful algal blooms after their release. In addition, pathogens such as the bacterium vibrio cholerae (cholera), have been transported with ballast water. As ships travel faster and faster, the survival rates of species carried in ballast tanks have increased. As a result, many introductions of non-indigenous organisms in new locations have occurred, often with disastrous consequences for the local ecosystem - which may include important fish stocks or rare species.

The overall outline of a draft legal instrument has been prepared, though a number of issues remain open for further consideration, including:

  • the preferred approach to application - whether globalized, via the designation of Ballast Water Management Areas, or other approaches;

  • development of a range of standards, e.g., for evaluation and acceptance of new ballast water management and control options;

  • development of a regionalization concept; and

  • the extent of application of the provisions to some categories of vessels, such as fishing vessels, pleasure boats, etc.

Options for introducing the proposed regulations include:

  • a new Annex to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 relating thereto (MARPOL 73/78); and

  • a completely new Convention on ballast water management, under which the terms for entry into force would be determined by a Conference, instead of having to comply with existing terms established by MARPOL 73/78.

Current options for preventing the spread of harmful aquatic organisms in ballast water include exchanging the ballast water in deep ocean, where there is less marine life and where organisms are less likely to survive. Other options include various (filtration, thermo, chemical, and radiation) treatments of the ballast water en route to kill the living organisms.


Recycling of ships

The MEPC decided to consider the matter further at the 46th session next year and established a correspondence group, chaired by Bangladesh, whose tasks would be to:

  1. Gather information on current practices concerning the recycling of ships.

  2. Identify relevant information from documents already submitted to MEPC and discussions that have taken place in the Committee on the issue.

  3. Identify the safety and environmental hazards and risks associated with current practices.

  4. Collect information regarding procedures introduced by governments and industry to reduce the environmental and safety risks associated with the recycling of ships.

  5. Collate information to be received from the Secretariats of ILO, the Basel Convention, the London Convention and industry on their activities and perceived responsibilities associated with the recycling of ships.

  6. Gather views on areas where IMO may usefully contribute to the reduction of safety and environmental risks associated with the recycling of ships.

  7. Provide a report for discussion to MEPC 46


Inadequacy of reception facilities

The Committee adopted Guidelines for ensuring the adequacy of port waste reception facilities. They contain information for the provision and improvement of port waste reception facilities and provide information relating to the ongoing management of existing facilities, as well as for the planning and establishment of new facilities.

Reception facilities for wastes are required by MARPOL 73/78, but the lack of facilities for dirty ballast water, waste oil and garbage is still a major problem in some areas for the shipping industry and represents the main reason for pollution of the marine environment. IMO Assembly resolution A.896 (21) on Provision and use of port waste reception facilities, adopted in November 1999, requested the MEPC to develop guidelines on the provision and use of port waste reception facilities.

The resolution notes that while the IMO Comprehensive Manual on Port Reception Facilities provides guidance and technical advice, there is a need for guidelines on how best to plan the provision and utilization of port waste reception facilities that meet the needs of their users.

The provision of reception facilities is particularly important when countries wish their coastal areas to be designated as special areas.

Information, provided by Member States, on provision of reception facilities is available on the IMO web site (at


Revision of MARPOL Annex IV

The Committee approved a draft revised text of MARPOL Annex IV, Regulations for the Prevention of Pollution by Sewage from Ships. The Secretariat was instructed to prepare a draft MEPC resolution on notification from Annex IV Parties to IMO about regulations of discharge in waters under their jurisdiction and available reception facilities in their ports.


An MEPC resolution on implementation of Annex IV was adopted.


The ERIKA incident

There was considerable discussion about the sinking of the tanker Erika off the coast of France in December 1999. In his opening remarks to the Committee, the Secretary-General, Mr. William A. O'Neil, reiterated his firm position that IMO should always and without exception, be regarded as the only forum where safety and pollution prevention standards affecting international shipping should be considered and adopted. He emphasised that regional, let alone unilateral, application to foreign flag ships of national requirements which go beyond IMO standards will be detrimental to international shipping and to the functioning of IMO itself - and should, therefore, be avoided.

A large number of delegates spoke on the issue and all agreed that any regulatory action taken must be at the international rather than the regional or national level.

An informal meeting of members of the working group on Oil Prevention, Response and Co-operation (OPRC), agreed that the incident showed that there were still technical problems in certain areas.

  • Oil Behaviour. The ERIKA cargo was an oil with a specific gravity close to that of seawater and became submerged below the water surface. Oil detection and tracking in this state presents considerable difficulties. The development of practical submerged oil detection and tracking methods is needed.

  • Oil Viscosity. When emulsified, this oil remained in thick patches and was highly viscous. As a result, available recovery pumps and skimmers had great difficulty in handling it. Recovery systems incorporating pumps, skimmers and related equipment capable of handling highly viscous oils are required.

  • Recovery of Oil in Rough Seas. This incident occurred in rough seas and there was difficulty in recovering oil. The performance of oil recovery equipment at sea in rough conditions needs to be investigated and improved.

The implications of the Erika incident will be further discussed at the MEPC's 45th session in October.


Prevention of air pollution from ships

The Committee approved a proposed amendment to regulation 14(3)(a) of Annex VI to MARPOL 73/78 to include the North Sea as a SOx Emission Control Area. It will take effect after the entry into force of the 1997 Protocol to MARPOL 73/78.

The Committee recognised that for the measures to reduce air pollution from ships in SOx Emission Control Areas to be effective, (bunker) fuel oil used must contain a lower sulphur percentage as prescribed in the above regulation, rather than the maximum permitted by regulation 14(1) of Annex VI of MARPOL 73/78.

The committee called on Governments, particularly those in SOx Emission Control Areas, to ensure the availability of low sulphur (bunker) fuel oil within the area of their jurisdiction. It also called on the oil and shipping industries to facilitate the availability and use of such fuel.