Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), 71st session 3-7 July 2017

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations agency charged with regulating international shipping, has progressed its environmental agenda at the recent meeting of its Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), 71st session (3-7 July). The Committee clarified the ballast water management schedule, progressed GHG and air pollution issues, adopted new NOx emission control areas, designated a further Particularly Sensitive Sea Area and agreed to work on implementation of the 0.50% global sulphur limit.  

This work is helping IMO to fulfil its mandate to protect oceans and human health and to mitigate climate change, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 14 (oceans) and SDG 13 (climate change).

Ballast Water Management Convention clarity  
The MEPC agreed a practical and pragmatic implementation schedule for ships to comply with the IMO Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention, which aims to stem the transfer of potentially invasive species in ships’ ballast water.

The treaty enters into force on 8 September 2017. Currently, the BWM Convention has been ratified by 61 countries, representing 68.46% of world merchant shipping tonnage.

From the date of entry into force, ships will be required to manage their ballast water to avoid the transfer of potentially invasive species.  All ships will be required to have a ballast water management plan and keep a ballast water record book. Ships will be required to manage their ballast water to meet the so-called D-1 standard or D-2 standard.

The D-1 standard requires ships to conduct the exchange of ballast water such that at least 95% of water by volume is exchanged far away from the coast where it would be released. 

The D-2 standard* requires ballast water management to restrict to a specified maximum the amount of viable organisms allowed to be discharged and to limit the discharge of specified indicator microbes harmful to human health.

Draft amendments to the treaty approved by the MEPC clarify when ships must comply with the requirement to meet the D-2 standard.

The draft amendments will be circulated after the entry into force of the BWM Convention on 8 September 2017, with a view to adoption at the next MEPC session (MEPC 72 in April 2018).  Under the approved amendments, new ships, i.e., ships constructed on or after 8 September 2017, shall conduct ballast water management that at least meets the D-2 standard from the date they are put into service. For existing ships, i.e., ships constructed before 8 September 2017, the date for compliance with the D-2 standard is linked with the renewal survey of the ship associated with the International Oil Pollution Prevention Certificate under MARPOL Annex I. For existing ships this would be the first or second five-year renewal survey after 8 September 2017:

  • By the first renewal survey: this applies when that the first renewal survey of the ship takes place on or after 8 September 2019 or a renewal survey has been completed on or after 8 September 2014 but prior to 8 September 2017. 
  • By the second renewal survey: this applies if the first renewal survey after 8 September 2017 takes place before 8 September 2019. In this case, compliance must be by the second renewal survey (provided that the previous renewal survey has not been completed in the period between 8 September 2014 and 8 September 2017). 

An existing ship to which the IOPP renewal survey under MARPOL Annex I does not apply shall meet the D-2 standard from the date decided by the Administration, but not later than 8 September 2024.

The MEPC adopted a resolution which resolves that Parties to the BWM Convention should implement the schedule for compliance outlined in the draft amendments, ahead of their adoption and entry into force.   

In other work focusing on implementation of the BWM treaty, the MEPC, inter alia:

  • adopted the 2017 Guidelines for ballast water exchange (G6);
  • adopted the 2017 Guidelines for risk assessment under regulation A-4 of the BWM Convention (G7);
  • adopted an MEPC resolution on “The experience-building phase associated with the BWM Convention”;
  • approved the Code for approval of ballast water management systems, and approved draft amendments to the BWM Convention to make the Code mandatory, for adoption at the next session;
  • approved amendments to section E (Survey and certification) of the BWM Convention, also for adoption at MEPC 72;
  • approved a manual on "Ballast Water Management - How to do it";
  • approved Guidance on contingency measures under the BWM Convention;
  • approved a circular on Application of the BWM Convention to ships operating in sea areas where ballast water exchange in accordance with regulations B-4.1 and D-1 is not possible;
  • granted final approval to one and basic approval to two ballast water management systems that makes use of active substances. (The current list of approved ballast water management systems can be found here - it will be updated with latest approvals shortly.).

Implementation of the global sulphur limit - scope of work agreed
The MEPC agreed the scope of work needed to achieve consistent implementation of the 0.50% m/m global limit of the sulphur content of ships’ fuel oil, which will come into effect from 1 January 2020. The 0.50% limit is prescribed in regulation 14.1.3 of MARPOL Annex VI.

The Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR) has been instructed to explore what actions may be taken to ensure consistent and effective implementation of the 0.50% m/m sulphur limit for fuel oil used by ships operating outside designated SOX Emission Control Areas and/or not making use of equivalent means such as exhaust gas cleaning systems; as well as actions that may facilitate the implementation of effective policies by IMO Member States.

To ensure this vital work is completed by 2020, the MEPC approved (subject to endorsement by the IMO Council) the holding of an intersessional working group meeting in the second half of 2018. 

In other work related to air pollution matters, the MEPC:

  • adopted amendments to MARPOL Annex VI to designate the North Sea and the Baltic Sea as emission control areas (ECAs) for nitrogen oxides (NOX) under regulation 13 of MARPOL Annex VI.  Both ECAs will take effect on 1 January 2021, thereby considerably lowering emissions of NOx from international shipping in those areas;
  • adopted amendments to the information to be included in the bunker delivery note relating to the supply of marine fuel oil to ships which have fitted alternative mechanisms to address sulphur emission requirements;
  • adopted the 2017 Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) system Guidelines.

Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from ships
The MEPC continued to build on the solid work the Organization has undertaken to address greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from international shipping, with work on track for the adoption of an initial IMO strategy on the reduction of GHG emissions from ships in 2018, in accordance with a Roadmap approved at MEPC 70.

The MEPC noted agreement within a working group on a draft outline for the structure of the initial IMO Strategy.  The group met following a week-long meeting of the Intersessional Working Group on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships (26-30 June), which reported on its detailed discussions.

The initial strategy is set to include:

  1. Preamble/introduction/context including emission scenarios
  2. Vision
  3. Levels of ambition
    Guiding principles
  4. List of candidate short-, mid- and long-term further measures with possible timelines and their impacts on States
  5. Barriers and supportive measures; capacity building and technical cooperation; R&D
  6. Follow-up actions towards the development of the revised Strategy
  7. Periodic review of the Strategy

The Committee approved terms of reference for the second and third meetings of the Intersessional Working Group.

In addition to further considering how to progress the matter of reduction of GHG emissions from ships and advise the Committee as appropriate, the second intersessional meeting (ISWG-GHG 2, 23-27 October 2017) has been instructed to further develop the structure and identify core elements of the draft initial IMO Strategy on reduction of GHG emissions from ships and develop draft text for inclusion in the initial Strategy, with submissions due by 22 September 2017.

The third intersessional meeting (ISWG-GHG 3, 3-6 April 2018) has been instructed, on the basis of the work of ISWG GHG 2, to finalize the draft initial IMO Strategy on reduction of GHG emissions from ships and submit a report to MEPC 72 (9-13 April 2018).

Energy efficiency measures for ships
Energy-efficiency design standards for new ships and associated operational energy-efficiency measures for existing ships became mandatory in 2013, with the entry into force of relevant amendments to MARPOL Annex VI. The Committee was informed that nearly 2,500 new ocean-going ships have been certified as complying with the energy efficiency standards. In other work related to the implementation of the mandatory energy efficiency measures in MARPOL Annex VI, the MEPC:

  • adopted 2017 Guidelines for Administration verification of ship fuel oil consumption data, to support the implementation of the mandatory MARPOL requirements for ships of 5,000 gross tonnage and above to collect consumption data for each type of fuel oil they use, as well as additional specified data, including proxies for transport work, from calendar year 2019;
  • adopted 2017 Guidelines for the development and management of the IMO Ship Fuel Oil Consumption Database;
  • approved an MEPC circular on Submission of data to the IMO data collection system for fuel oil consumption of ships from a State not Party to MARPOL Annex VI;
  • approved draft amendments to regulation 21 of MARPOL Annex VI regarding EEDI requirements for ro-ro cargo and ro-ro passenger ships, with a view to adoption at MEPC 72;
  • established a correspondence group on review of the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) beyond phase 2, to report on progress by MEPC 72 and make a recommendation to MEPC 73 on the time period and reduction rates for EEDI phase 3 requirements. 

Protecting the Arctic from heavy fuel oil – work to begin at MEPC 72
The MEPC agreed to add a new output in its work programme on the development of measures to reduce risks of use and carriage of heavy fuel oil (HFO) as fuel by ships in Arctic waters. This new output will appear on the agenda for its next session (MEPC 72) in April 2018.

Member Governments and international organizations were invited to submit concrete proposals on what type of measures should be developed, including the scope of the work, to MEPC 72, so that clear instructions can be given to the PPR Sub-Committee which will carry out the detailed technical work, starting at PPR 6.

The use and carriage of heavy fuel oil is banned in Antarctic waters under MARPOL and the IMO Polar Code recommends that States follow the same practice in the Arctic.
Designation of Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (Philippines) as a PSSA 
The MEPC approved the final designation of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, situated in the Sulu Sea, Philippines as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA), following the adoption by the Maritime Safety Committee of a new Area to be avoided as an associated protective measure. The aim is to reduce the risk of ship groundings in the park, thereby preventing any resulting marine pollution and damage to the fragile coral reef ecosystem, as well as ensuring the sustainability of local artisanal fisheries.

This brings the number of marine areas protected in this way to 15 (plus two extensions).

OSV Chemical Code
The MEPC approved the draft Code for the transport and handling of hazardous and noxious liquid substances in bulk on offshore support vessels (OSV Chemical Code), prepared by PPR 4 and amended and approved by MSC 98, for submission to the thirtieth IMO Assembly for adoption later this year.

Oil pollution model courses approved
Updated IMO Model Courses on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation (OPRC Model Training Courses) were approved by the MEPC. The OPRC model training courses have been revised to provide up-to-date guidance for preparedness and response to marine oil spills.

Major technical cooperation projects
The MEPC was informed about recent developments with regard to major environment-related technical cooperation (TC) projects. With a view to continuing the technical cooperation efforts in marine biosafety, which started with the GloBallast Partnerships Project which came to an end in June 2017, IMO has secured further funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to prepare a full-scale document for a new global project aimed at assisting with implementation of the IMO Guidelines for controlling and managing ships’ biofouling.  

On the sidelines of the MEPC meeting,  leading shipowners and operators, classification societies, engine and technology builders and suppliers, big data providers, and oil companies signed up to a new Global Industry Alliance (GIA) to support shipping and its related industries make the transition towards a low carbon future.  The GIA has been established under the auspices of the GloMEEP Project, a GEF-United Nations Development Program (UNDP)-IMO project to support developing countries implement energy-efficiency measures for shipping.

Meanwhile, the European Union-funded Global MTCC Network (GMN) Project has successfully established maritime technology cooperation centres (MTTCs) in its five target regions - Asia, Africa, Caribbean, Latin America and Pacific. With the goal to support the move towards low-carbon shipping, the MTTCs will focus on capacity-building efforts and implementing pilot projects involving fuel oil consumption data collection and developing low-carbon technologies.


* Regulation D-2 Ballast Water Performance Standard

  1. Ships conducting Ballast Water Management in accordance with this regulation shall discharge less than 10 viable organisms per cubic metre greater than or equal to 50 micrometres in minimum dimension and less than 10 viable organisms per millilitre less than 50 micrometres in minimum dimension and greater than or equal to 10 micrometres in minimum dimension; and discharge of the indicator microbes shall not exceed the specified concentrations described in paragraph 2.
  2.  Indicator microbes, as a human health standard, shall include:
    .1 Toxicogenic Vibrio cholerae (O1 and O139) with less than 1 colony forming unit (cfu) per 100 millilitres or less than 1 cfu per 1 gram (wet weight) zooplankton samples ;
    .2 Escherichia coli less than 250 cfu per 100 millilitres;
    .3 Intestinal Enterococci less than 100 cfu per 100 milliliters.