51st Party to London Protocol
A busy meeting of the Contracting Parties to the London Convention and London Protocol, the treaties which regulate the dumping of wastes at sea, began at IMO headquarters in London with Peru informing the meeting they had deposited their instrument of accession becoming the 51st Party to the London Protocol. There are now 99 Parties to the London Protocol and/or the London Convention.
During the meeting, the Contracting Parties addressed a number of important issues concerning ocean governance and the protection of the marine environment.
Disposal of fibreglass vessels - a serious problem
Small, fibreglass fishing and recreational boats are often found abandoned on the coasts of a number of countries, in particular some developing countries and small island States. This has been identified as yet another possible source of plastic litter and microplastics in the marine environment - a concern brought to the attention of the Parties to the London Convention and London Protocol.
The Parties reviewed a report on the current state of knowledge regarding the end-of-life management of fibre-reinforced plastic (FRP) vessels, and on alternatives to disposal at sea. The report noted that FRP vessels are both a local and global issue. Concern over their disposal is rising, as FRP vessels are outliving their life expectancy and there is now an abundance of unused, abandoned vessels with no sustainable disposal route.
Some Parties highlighted their own schemes aimed at addressing the issue, including incentive schemes to motivate owners to take their redundant vessels to a recycling facility. However, there are significant knowledge and data gaps on this issue, especially in relation to the availability and sustainability of alternative management options.
The meeting endorsed a statement of concern, which highlights the problem and also noted that such vessels are not good candidates for disposal at sea, or appropriate for use as artificial reefs in the marine environment, as they may float or drift, also posing a hazard to navigation. The meeting also agreed to issue a circular, inviting Parties and other relevant bodies to share information on current operating procedures and best practices associated with the end-of-life management of FRP vessels and on alternatives to disposal at sea, help to avoid, as far as possible, the reliance on disposal at sea of such vessels.
Addressing marine plastic litter from ships
The meeting considered the IMO Action Plan to address marine plastic litter from ships, adopted by the IMO Marine Environment Protection committee (MEPC 73) in October 2018. The meeting identified a number of actions which were relevant to the London Convention and Protocol and reiterated the commitment of the governing bodies to combat marine litter and microplastics.
The Scientific Groups, including through its Correspondence Group on marine litter, were requested to continue related work on marine plastic litter.
Deposition of materials jettisoned during the launch of space vehicles
The meeting considered an emerging issue relating to material jettisoned during space vehicle launches, which could impact on the marine environment.
The activity is expected to rise sharply in frequency in the coming years as a number of new commercial satellite launch facilities are developed around the world. The meeting endorsed the Scientific Groups’ decision to establish an intersessional correspondence Group, to collect further information on the issue, with a view to assessing the impacts of these activities on the marine environment and review the relevant guidelines issued by the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). In the meantime, the LC/LP Secretariat had initiated contact with COPUOS, to encourage exchange of information.
Dealing with platforms and other man-made structures
The meeting continued its work to review and update the Specific guidelines for assessment of platforms or other man-made structures at sea, which were last issued in 2000. Dumping of vessels and platforms or other man-made structures at sea is generally prohibited, but may be considered for a permit for dumping, if specific requirements are met.
The meeting agreed that the category of "other man-made structures at sea" is not defined under the London Protocol nor under the London Convention, but could refer to other structures for which the Contracting Party requires a permitting procedure to abandon or dispose of in accordance with domestic legislation or other relevant international obligations. It was also agreed that the revised guidelines would not apply to previous or unplanned abandonments of platforms or other man-made structures at sea
A correspondence group, established under the Scientific Groups earlier this year, was instructed to continue the revision, with a view to finalization of the updated guidelines at the next session.
Compliance and monitoring
The meeting reviewed general matters relating to compliance and monitoring, including the submission of obligatory reports.
Under the London Convention and Protocol, Parties are required to submit annual reports on dumping activities (such as permits which have been granted); any illegal activities detected; exceptions granted (such as force majeure); and so on. However, increasing the reporting rates remains a high priority, and the Meetings urged all Parties, if they had not done so, to provide the Secretariat with their annual reports.
The Barriers to Compliance (B2C) Project, funded by voluntary contributions from a number of countries over the years, has also been contributing to the work to improve compliance and to increase the ratifications of the Protocol.
The Meetings approved a series of documents to support compliance, including the "Communication plan for the step by-step guidance on simple approaches to creating and using action lists and action levels for dredged material", the "Communication plan for the revised guidance on national implementation of the London Protocol" and the "Frequently Asked Questions on the London Protocol".
A number of national and regional workshops to raise awareness of the London Protocol were held during the past year, as part of an ongoing series. The workshops have been supported by the IMO Integrated Technical Cooperation Programme (IMO ITCP), as well as the LC/LP Technical Cooperation Trust Fund. The meeting also thanked the Governments of Brazil, Canada, People's Republic of China, Ireland, Mexico and the Republic of Korea for providing funding and experts in-kind to those activities.