IMO Environment Protection Committee marks 50th session

IMO celebrated the 50th meeting of its Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) with a special commemorative session on 4 December. MEPC chairmen past and present attended the session and spoke about the achievements of the Committee through the years. The session also marked the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the 1973 MARPOL Convention.

In his address to the session, IMO Secretary-General Mr. William O'Neil spoke of the success of the MEPC in performing its function as the unique international agency with regulatory responsibility for controlling ship-generated pollution.

He said, "Within the global dynamic process of environmental governance under the United Nations, IMO has managed to keep all environmental issues surrounding ships within the authority of this Organization. MARPOL was the first major environmental instrument to be established at IMO, and MEPC has successfully managed to keep the Convention updated, reflecting the changing demands of the day. If MEPC had not been established at IMO, I am sure that environmental issues concerning shipping would have been debated in various fora and, as a result, regulations concerning the control of pollution from ships would probably have been fragmented among various international legal instruments."

The 50th MEPC session (1 and 4 December) was convened as an additional session to consider the adoption of proposals for an accelerated phase-out scheme for single hull tankers, along with other measures including an extended application of the Condition Assessment Scheme (CAS) for tankers and a proposal for a regulation banning the carriage of Heavy Grades of Oil (HGO) in single-hull tankers.

The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) was adopted on 2 November 1973, in the year after the June 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm provided a global forum for discussions on the environment.

The MEPC itself arose out of an Ad Hoc Working Group on Marine Environment Protection which was established by the IMO Council in June 1973. The Ad Hoc group - chaired by Mr. O'Neil, who at the time represented Canada at IMO meetings - reported, through Council, to the 8th session of Assembly in November 1973, recommending that the Marine Environment Protection Committee be established.

The MEPC was thus established as a new permanent subsidiary body of the IMO Assembly by Resolution A.297(VIII), which noted that marine pollution aspects had hitherto been dealt with by the Maritime Safety Committee, in addition to its important and extensive statutory obligations relative to the safety of life and property at sea. The resolution recognized "that the objectives will be most effectively and efficiently achieved by the establishment of a permanent Committee to execute and co-ordinate all activities of the Organization relating to the prevention and control of pollution of the marine environment from ships." Amendments to the IMO Convention adopted in 1975 (Resolution A.358(IX)) established the MEPC's full constitutional status.

Highlighting the achievements of the MEPC, Mr. O'Neil noted that the MEPC has provided practical solutions to environmental issues.

"Over the last thirty years, the Committee has dealt with matters concerning oils, chemicals, litter, sewage, air pollution, pollution preparedness and response, and anti-fouling paints and is currently addressing issues such as ship recycling and invasive species in ships' ballast water. The response from MEPC has always been practical, providing effective technical measures as global standards and this has only been possible because the Committee has enjoyed good co-operation and strong support from the shipping industry in its work programmes," he said.

"[The] MEPC has managed to establish a single global regulatory framework. MARPOL has been ratified by a vast number of countries, covering 96% of the world fleet by tonnage, and MEPC is truly acting as a single international forum ensuring global control over aspects of the design, construction, equipment and operation of ships, where they relate to environmental protection," Mr. O'Neil added.

Nonetheless, IMO's role as the international Organization charged with regulating pollution from ships has been challenged, particularly in recent years.

"Turning to the future, the MEPC will still have to put further efforts into the areas where significant work is still required. While it has been successful in setting out international regulations, more needs to be done in the field of implementation," Mr. O'Neil noted.

"One specific field on which I have a serious concern is the responsibility of the MEPC in designating Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas. The Committee has established Guidelines and designated a number of PSSAs but, in my view, the recent discussion at the Committee reflects the need for a review of the original concept of PSSAs and its application to the current demand for new areas. The Committee may wish to revisit the concepts of navigational restriction under the ship routeing measures and the present scheme of designating PSSAs," Mr. O'Neil said.

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MEPC Chairmen past and present

Mr. P. Eriksson (Sweden) Elected at the 1st session, March 1974
Mr. E. Jansen (Norway) Elected at the 10th session, December 1978
Dr. J. Cowley (United Kingdom) Elected at the 19th session, December 1983
Rear Admiral S.A. Wallace (United States) Elected at the 26th session, September 1988
Mr. P. Bergmeijer (Netherlands) Elected at the 33rd session, October 1992
Mr. M. Julian (Australia) Elected at the 40th session, September 1997
Mr. A. Chrysostomou (Cyprus) Elected at the 48th session, October 2002 (Current chairman)

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IMO - the International Maritime Organization - is the United Nations specialized agency with responsibility for the safety of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships.

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