EU countries propose MARPOL amendments in Prestige response

The Secretary-General of IMO, Mr William O'Neil, received yesterday (10 April 2003) from all the fifteen Member States of the European Union, each of which is a Party to the MARPOL Convention, a set of formal proposals to change certain provisions of the MARPOL Convention.

In essence, the proposals call for further acceleration of the phase-out timetable for single-hull tankers, an immediate ban on the carriage of heavy grades of oil in single-hull tankers and for the Condition Assessment Scheme (adopted in 2001 in the wake of the 1999 Erika incident) to be applied to tankers of 15 years of age and above.

The proposals will be circulated among all IMO Member States and Parties to MARPOL prior to their consideration at the 49th session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), to be held at IMO's London Headquarters in July. In June, the IMO Council will be asked to sanction an additional meeting of the MEPC to be held this year, so that MEPC 49 could decide on holding an extra meeting in December, at which any measures arising from the proposals will be considered for formal adoption. Such an arrangement would give IMO Members the minimum six month period, stipulated in the Convention, in which to consider any proposed amendments and allow MARPOL Parties to consider introducing new international measures at the earliest date.

To ensure IMO Member States have as much relevant information as possible to hand when they consider the proposals, IMO Secretary-General William O'Neil has reactivated the Informal Group of Experts, which was commissioned in 2000 to assess the likely effect of post-Erika proposals, to study the impact of the new proposals now submitted. The group will take into account criteria such as the volume of oil and oil products carried by oil tankers world-wide and by region; the number of single-hull tankers to be affected by the proposals; the capacity of shipyards needed to replace the single-hull tankers that would be withdrawn from service and the capacity available world-wide; and the scrapping capacity of ship-recycling facilities on an annual basis.

The study has to be completed within a very short period of time and will be undertaken by the IMO Secretariat, assisted by independent experts nominated by industry organizations. The work will be co-ordinated by the IMO's Marine Environment Division. The Informal Group is expected to draw on expertise and experience from any available source, including Member Governments and international organizations.

The study is expected to be finalized by the end of May 2003, for dissemination as soon as possible thereafter for consideration by MEPC 49.

IMO Secretary-General O'Neil expressed satisfaction at the submission of the proposals to amend the MARPOL Convention. In the aftermath of the Prestige sinking, Mr O'Neil repeatedly expressed the 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.

During meetings earlier this year with the President of the European Union Maritime Transport Ministers' Council, Mr. Yiorgos Anomeritis, and the Vice-President of the European Union, Mrs. Loyola de Palacio, Mr O'Neil urged Member Governments to bring any safety and environmental issues relating to the Prestige incident to IMO for consideration and appropriate action.

Background notes for editors:

MARPOL Convention
The MARPOL Convention is the main international convention covering prevention of pollution of the marine environment by ships from operational or accidental causes. It is a combination of two treaties adopted in 1973 and 1978 respectively and updated by amendments through the years.

The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) was adopted on 2 November 1973 at IMO and covered pollution by oil, chemicals, harmful substances in packaged form, sewage and garbage. The Protocol of 1978 relating to the 1973 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (1978 MARPOL Protocol) was adopted at a Conference on Tanker Safety and Pollution Prevention in February 1978. As the 1973 MARPOL Convention had not yet entered into force, the 1978 MARPOL Protocol absorbed the parent Convention. The combined instrument is referred to as the International Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 relating thereto (MARPOL 73/78), and it entered into force on 2 October 1983 (Annexes I and II).

The Convention includes regulations aimed at preventing and minimizing pollution from ships - both accidental pollution and that from routine operations - and currently includes six technical Annexes. States Parties must accept Annexes I and II, but the other Annexes are optional.

Single-hull tanker phase-out
Double-hull tankers are deemed to offer greater protection of the environment from pollution than single-hull tankers in certain types of accident. Under MARPOL, all new oil tankers built since 1996 are required to have double hulls.

The original MARPOL regulation 13G, adopted in 1992, already legislated for the phasing-out of single-hull tankers but over a protracted period which would have allowed some ships to continue trading until their 30th anniversary. It was revised in April 2001 as part of a package of measures adopted in response to the Erika incident, when IMO's Member States agreed to an accelerated timetable that would see most single-hull oil tankers eliminated by 2015 or earlier. These new proposals call for further acceleration of the phase-out timetable.

Condition Assessment Scheme (CAS)
Also adopted in April 2001, the requirements of the CAS include enhanced and transparent verification of the reported structural condition and of the ship and verification that the documentary and survey procedures have been properly carried out and completed. The Scheme requires that compliance with the CAS is assessed during the Enhanced Survey Programme of Inspections concurrent with intermediate or renewal surveys currently required by IMO resolution A.744(18), as amended.

Although the CAS does not specify structural standards in excess of the provisions of other IMO conventions, codes and recommendations, its requirements stipulate more stringent and transparent verification of the reported structural condition of the ship and that documentary and survey procedures have been properly carried out and completed.

Heavy oil
Heavy oil is a type of crude oil which is very viscous and does not flow easily. The common characteristic properties are high specific gravity, low hydrogen to carbon ratios, high carbon residues, and high contents of asphaltenes, heavy metal, sulphur and nitrogen. These characteristics present particular challenges for clean-up operations in the event of an accidental spill at sea. Heavy oil is set to become increasingly important to the world's economy during the 21st Century as light oil production declines over the next few decades.

Proposal by the European countries
The proposed amendments to MARPOL Convention consist of the following measures:
1. Further acceleration of the single-hull phase-out scheme as follows:

Category 1 tankers by 2005 (currently by 2007 under MARPOL regulation 13G)
Category 2 tankers by 2010 (currently by 2015)
Category 3 tankers by 2010 (currently by 2015)

2. Expanded application of the Condition Assessment Scheme to Category 2 and Category 3 single-hull tankers of 15 yeas of age and over;

3. Immediate prohibition of the carriage of heavy oil by single-hull tankers over 600 DWT, with the period of grace until 2008 for tankers of less than 5000 DWT.

Further information

Tanker safety

Information resources on the Prestige

Information resources on the Erika accident and the revision of regualtion 13G of MARPOL 73/78


11 April 2003

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