IMO is in a race to introduce new regulations to reduce global shipping emissions before regional and local governments impose their own rules, which could massively impact IMO’s influence over shipping as a whole
The EU has pulled out a huge lead in this race with the announcement of the inclusion of shipping in the Emission Trading System. This was one reason why the latest IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) dropped a range of items from its agenda, to concentrate instead on short-term goals to reduce emissions.
For many, this was a missed opportunity to discuss some fundamental issues – like how to make ballast water treatment systems work in real life and how and to determine when they will be tested for compliance. The technology has a limited Experience Building Phase before the next deadline of September 2024, but we still do not know the quality and quantity of feedback.
Compliance monitoring is another fundamental; shipowners have invested millions of dollars in type-approved ballast water treatment and now require assurance that the systems will work every time the vessel works cargo. This, too, has been delayed.
A similar story, but with a twist, is emerging in the area of marine sewage treatment plants. Like ballast water treatment systems, these have been tested and type-approved; however, unlike ballast water treatment systems, this does not include an actual real life, at-sea test.
It has now emerged that the land-based testing does not include a true facsimile of what happens to the waste, and there are calls for the regulations to be amended to include at-sea monitoring. This and the ballast water situation are just two examples of where the regulatory job has not been completed.
“It is like stipulating seat belts must only be fitted to cars with engines of over five-litres capacity"
As far as we are aware, no seafarer has died from a lack of a ballast water treatment system on a tanker, but seafarers have been regularly killed in explosions directly related to the lack on an inert-gas systems on tankers. With hindsight, the regulations on the fitment of inert-gas systems on tankers under SOLAS Convention (Chapter II-2, Regulation 4-5.5) seem bizarre.
Inert gas was first regulated in 1974 and implemented in 1980, but only for tankers over 100,000 dwt. In 1981, this was amended to tankers over 20,000 dwt and reduced to over 8,000 dwt in 2016. Despite following gas-freeing and ventilation guidelines, tankers under 8,000 dwt without inert-gas systems can, and do, explode.
No other industry would take such as approach. It is like stipulating seat belts must only be fitted to cars with engines of over five-litres capacity, then lowering the limit to three-litres 10 years later, then to one-litre capacity after another decade, but never taking steps to mandate for all cars. Like cars, there are far more small tankers than large tankers.
It is against this background that IMO is now diverting its resources to pass regulations on emissions, but the question remains: should it really be doing this at the expense of not resolving existing legislation loopholes that directly impact safety as sea?