Secretary-General urges realistic, pragmatic and well-balanced approach to tanker regulations as key meeting gets underway

Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) - 49th session: 14-18 July 2003

IMO Secretary-General William O'Neil urged a realistic, pragmatic and well-balanced approach to consideration of proposals to amend oil tanker regulations in the MARPOL convention, as he addressed delegates at the opening of the 49th session of the Organization's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) meeting in London today (14 July 2003).

Referring to proposals brought to IMO in the wake of the Prestige incident, Mr O'Neil urged delegates to ensure their decisions were "realistic, pragmatic and well-balanced so that they will not cause or lead to any negative repercussions which might:

- damage the concept of universality in the regulation of shipping;
- discriminate against other regions of the world;
- have negative repercussions on the supply of oil;
- undermine the authority of IMO;
- confuse the industry as to which regulations prevail; and
- permit other regions to create their own regimes if in disagreement with IMO."

Mr. O'Neil reminded delegates that following the sinking of the Prestige off the west coast of Spain in November 2002 and soon after the magnitude of its impact on the marine environment was enunciated by the coastal States, he embarked on a number of activities to ensure that IMO could respond promptly to any action that might be needed.

"Amongst other matters, I visited the then President of the European Union Transport Ministers' Council and the European Commission Transport Commissioner and simultaneously kept an open line of communication with the flag and coastal States involved, as well as with the classification society concerned. My efforts were also directed towards convincing all parties that any regulatory changes which might be considered for introduction should be brought to IMO where they would be examined promptly and action on them would be taken expeditiously within the requirements as laid down in the MARPOL Convention", he noted.

As a result, the proper process was followed when the proposals to amend the MARPOL Convention were submitted to IMO by the European Union Members. These were promptly circulated for consideration by MARPOL Parties under the provisions of the Convention concerning the amendment procedures. In addition, the Informal Group of Experts on the Impact Assessment of the Proposed Amendments to the MARPOL Convention, which had been set up in 2000 in the wake of the Erika incident, was reactivated and a completed report submitted to the MEPC.

Mr. O'Neil reminded delegates that the Council had approved the holding of a two-day Extra Session of MEPC in December this year, to be held during the 23rd regular session of the Assembly, should the MEPOC decide it needed that session.

The proposals to amend MARPOL 73/78, submitted by all the fifteen Member States of the European Union, 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.

Mr. O'Neil highlighted another pressing issue for the MEPC: the finalization of the draft text of a Convention for Ballast Water Management.

Noting that the World Summit on Sustainable Development last year agreed that the process of development aiming at measures to address invasive species in ballast water should be accelerated and urged IMO to finalize the draft ballast water convention as a priority environmental issue, Mr. O'Neil referred to the issue as a complex and challenging task.

However, he added, an Intersessional Working Group had been able to reduce the number of options and issues still to be decided at the current session.

Mr. O'Neil reflected on the achievements of the MEPC since its establishment in the wake of the Torrey Canyon disaster of 1967. That single incident had a significant impact on the regulation of the transportation of oil by ships and led to the expansion of IMO's activities in the environmental field. As well as the MEPC, this also resulted in the formation of the IOPC Fund and the United Nations Joint Group of Experts known as GESAMP.

Mr. O'Neil noted that the report published by GESAMP in 1989 provided new findings, which suggested that oil pollution resulting from shipping operations had continuously decreased over the three decades covered by its study. The MARPOL Convention had made a significant and positive impact on tanker operations and the report of a recent study on oil input conducted by GESAMP, which will be released shortly, will reconfirm the continuance of this trend.

During the 1990s, a number of new environmental issues emerged in the work programme of IMO, such as:

- pollution preparedness and response;
- design standards for tankers;
- prevention of air pollution from ships;
- prohibition of harmful anti-fouling paints;
- invasive species and ballast water management; and
- ship recycling.

"During the past ten years, MEPC has been especially productive and has raised international standards to prevent marine pollution by ships and these efforts have been well recognized within the United Nations system and by the Industry as a whole," Mr. O'Neil said.

"The coverage of measures adopted at IMO over a broad range of environmental issues have expanded rapidly so that the demand for international solutions to specific problems which have been identified by the growing environmental conscience of the general public have largely been met. "

Mr. O'Neil reflected on upon large-scale environmental programmes which have been handled by the Organization over the last decade and which are relevant to the work of the MEPC. With the support of the Global Environment Facility, the World Bank and the UNDP, IMO has successfully managed:

- the Regional Project in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia, known as PEMSEA;
- the Global Project for Ballast Water Management, known as GloBallast; and
- the Marine Electronic Highway Project for the Malacca and Singapore Straits.

Mr O'Neil expressed his appreciation of the leadership and management provided by the Secretariat's Marine Environment Division in the conduct of these environmental Projects. "I also wish to express my sincere appreciation to participating Governments, organizations and to the Industry for their encouragement and contributions as well as to the MEPC for providing the overall support and guidance needed to assure their effective implementation, he added.

Mr O'Neil told the MEPC delegates, "Although our efforts to deal with certain specific issues, such as the improvement of port reception facilities and the enforcement of various conventions, as well as the anticipated establishment of controls for ballast water management are ongoing, I am sure that your Committee has responded effectively and efficiently to fulfilling its role as the global legislative body responsible for the establishment of international rules and regulations regarding ship-related environmental measures."

15 July 2003


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