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Cleaning up shipping’s act

Interest over the results of pollution caused by actions of shipping companies on the aquatic habitat is increasing. This is expected, bearing in mind that a bulk of world trade and diverse key economic activities including offshore oil and gas exploration and production, marine tourism and fishery involve ships of various kinds.

Underlining the gravity of the problem, DNV Container Ship Update, an authoritative voice in container shipping, said that if no serious act is implemented, reduce shipping’s emissions, its share of global CO2 emissions would increase from 2.7 percent presently to as much as 20 percent by 2050.

According to a report published by Lloyd’s List in December 2009 titled ’Future of Shipping’, it was stressed that the shipping sector must adjust to a low carbon future and not holdup any further to take measures to deal with the adjustments that lie ahead in a world that requires industries to limit carbon and GHG emissions.

Various initiatives and control measures have been set up by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a special United Nations agency in charge of shipping and ocean governance, to ensure pollution from ships are minimized and shipping activities are carried out in an environmentally friendly manner. These include technical and operational measures to reduce CO2 emissions, for example the introduction of Energy Efficiency Design Index and the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan, which IMO plans to make obligatory to the shipping industry.

A committee of the IMO, the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), counsels the organization on issues pertaining to marine environment protection. MEPC’s work focuses on protecting the marine environment by coming up with guidelines in various aspects of shipping activities to reduce green house gases (GHG) and other pollutants from international shipping activities.

In addition to reducing GHG, the adoption of Annex III of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) is also high on the agenda of MEPC. MARPOL is an international convention concerning regulations for the prevention of air pollution from ships. Annex III of MARPOL covers pollution from packaged goods carried by ships and includes issues relating to the implementation of ballast water management (BWM) and conventions on ship recycling.

These efforts are in agreement with the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code. This code, which has been made compulsory in the shipping industry, spells out that goods must be carried by ships in a manner which is compliant with the relevant provisions governing such goods. The adoption of Annex III marks a milestone in international shipping in its efforts to protect the marine environment and operate in a cleaner manner.

Mobilizing efforts

The threat caused by ballast water from the aquatic surroundings is one that requires major attention. The existence of an encroaching unknown species in local waters, as a consequence of the release of ballast water from ships’ tanks, can result to harmful effects to the marine environment.

In connection with this, the global community has mustered efforts to approve the International Convention for the organization and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments, 2004. This important convention is intended to avoid the increase of this encroaching unknown species that can be dangerous to the aquatic environment.

For this reason, several ballast water management systems have been proposed by the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environment Protection (GESAMP) and the Ballast Water Working Group set up to advice IMO on the control and management of ballast water and sediments.

IMO also has intentions of reducing the Sulphur content of dugout fuels starting 2010 on all ships and procedures to decrease nitrogen oxide emissions from engines on new ships starting 2011. However, the fuel industry is concerned about the global cap on sulphur content of marine fuels of 0.5% by 2020 from the surviving maximum.

Reasons to go green in shipping

 This is because of the risks to safety of supply and to shipper and truckers in the event that the industry is not able to deal with with timely construction of new refining facilities.

A study by the American Petroleum Institute in 2007 discovered that the fuel industry will be need to devote $126 billion over 13 years in equipment and chemicals in order to manufacture adequate cleaner diesel as a substitute of bunker fuel to provide for the shipping industry.

Additionally underlining the dedication of the shipping industry players to ‘clean up their act’ is a deliberation of technical and operational measures to deal with green GHG emissions from ships. A wide range of proposals made by IMO Member States are being well thought-out at MEPC meetings at the IMO headquarters in London. MEPC has put in place, a Working Group to address issues concerning the GHG and this group has, in its last few meetings, contemplated the likelihood of executing compulsory standards, along with the rules and principles connected thereto.

One of the measures to initiate GHG in shipping is to enlarge obligatory market-based measures (MBM) to be employed to the shipping industry on an international level. This proposal involves the initiation of a cap or ceiling on emissions to the global commercial fleet. The proposal has been fiercely disputed; strong opposition have been heard which are not in favor of the proposed especially among developing nations which are reliant on buying and selling for their economic development.

While several countries, at least in principle, identify and value efforts to cut down GHG from shipping, they believe that the proposal to initiate MBM to achieve this purpose runs counter against their interests. This is not shocking given the fact that they own much of the world’s merchant shipping tonnage but lack the scientific and financial means of developed countries which stand to profit more from MBM. The stance taken by developing countries is made on the basis that in their current form, the market-based mediums which have been planned thus far do not tackle several issues which are of concern to developing countries.

The failure of these mechanisms to integrate the principles of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) and the principles of international treaties such as Kyoto Protocol, which are still being discussed, is at the center of the concern of developing countries. The developing countries dread that they will be deprived by MBM to decrease emissions, due to their lack of resources, in spite of the good purpose of initiating such market-based tools.

Other items on the plan of IMO to safe-guard the marine environment include:

  • Increasing procedure to guarantee ship recycling activities are carried out in a secure and eco- friendly fashion and in accordance with the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships (Hong Kong Convention) adopted in May 2009. In the same vein, MEPC has deliberated thoroughly several draft guidelines for the secure and environmentally sound ship recycling, with the aim to build a Ship Recycling Plan and for the approval of Ship Recycling Facilities. The Working group strongly advised IMO Member States to endorse the Hong Kong Convention and to evaluate the plan for technical assistance aimed at supporting the early implementation of the Convention.
  • Reviewing and upgrading MARPOL Annex V on Regulations for the avoidance of contamination by trash from ships, and the guiding principle related thereto. This was made following a complete evaluation on the rules and procedures by a correspondence group set up to embark on the assignment.
  • Deliberating proposals to assign certain maritime areas as Emissions Control Areas (ECAs) for the emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOX), sulphuroxide (SOX), and particulate matter under MARPOL Annex VI Regulations for the hindrance of Air Pollution from Ships. Such areas include certain waters near the coasts of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. If this proposal comes to life, these two areas will join Baltic Sea, North Sea and North American ECAs as protected areas under Annex VI of MARPOL.
  • Deliberating a proposal to modify MARPOL Annex IV on Prevention of Pollution by dirt from Ships to think about appointing particular Areas to avoid such pollution, and to assign the Baltic Sea as a Special Area under this Annex.
  • Taking into consideration the merits of a number of proposals to designate certain maritime areas as a predominantly Sensitive Sea Area.
  • Considering the accomplishment of the OPRC Convention and OPRC-HNS Protocol, based on a report of a meeting of the OPRC HNS Technical Group set up by MEPC.

IMO is undertaking a comprehensive approach in its efforts to head actions to ‘green’ the shipping sector. This is evidenced by IMO’s constant consultation with various stakeholders in the shipping sector including NGOs and interest groups, bearing in mind their standpoint and viewpoints in its effort to come up with a global administration to reduce GHG from shipping. Such groups include reputable establishments like Oxfam, World Wildlife Fund and Friends of the Earth.

Steaming ahead with the green agenda

It is encouraging to see that there is increasing awareness among the stakeholders in the shipping division of the condition of the aquatic environment and the function that the stakeholders of shipping must participate to reduce emissions from shipping and to guard the aquatic environment. Though, while no doubt actual and worthy efforts have been and are put in place to better control and save the marine environment from harm and improve social management in the shipping companies, much more work needs to be done in connection with this.

Efforts to boost environmental capacity of the shipping division imply that the stakeholders are taking good initiatives to lessen the adverse impacts of shipping to the environment. However, the execution of these measures needs to be well thought out, certain limits and problems faced by the industry players and policymakers. IMO’s Greenhouse Gas Study updated in 2009 reported that applying ‘known technology and practices’ could make vessels more efficient between 25 to 75 percent (which depends on the kind of vessels). However, adopting such technology and measures may open a can of worms of other problems. 


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