Ships Get More Time to Combat Invasive Marine Organisms

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By Ali Qassim

The world’s 40,000 merchant shipowners and operators have been granted two extra years—until 2024—to prepare for new rules on how to treat ballast water to prevent invasions of aquatic species, the International Maritime Organization said July 11.

Cargo ships, cruise liners, and large tankers use ballast water for balance and stability, and it also can be a source of nuisance or exotic aquatic plants or animals brought in from other ports.

The United Nations’ specialized shipping agency also plans to develop measures to reduce the risks of use and carriage of heavy fuel oil (HFO) as fuel by ships in Arctic waters when its Marine Environment Protection Committee next meets in April 2018. Ship engines almost always burn heavy fuel oil, one of the dirtiest and cheapest forms of energy.

But the London-based body failed to provide much detail of how it plans to reduce shipping’s annual 870 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions—almost 3 percent of the world’s total—at a time when the European Union and China are calling for more immediate action from the U.N. agency.

Two-Year Reprieve

Only new ships built after September will have to comply with the ballast water-management system rules, the IMO said in a July 11 statement following the marine protection panel’s 71st meeting held at the organization’s London-based headquarters July 3–7.

Existing ships—all those built before September—will have until 2024 to fully implement or retrofit ballast water management systems that can filter out aquatic microbes, algae, and animals that ships carry in their cargoes and can cause significant environmental damage when they enter non-native ecosystems.

The London-based International Chamber of Shipping, which represents more than 80 percent of the world’s merchant fleet, welcomed the decision to give ships more time to retrofit the systems. Its members include the Chamber of Shipping of America, which represents companies such as ConocoPhillips and Chevron Shipping Co. LLC.

“It was a practical decision,” Jonathan Spremulli, technical director of the International Chamber of Shipping, told Bloomberg BNA in a July 11 telephone interview. “The guidelines we approved for ballast water management systems last October were more robust and more in line with U.S.-type approval guidelines.”

The additional time to adjust to the tougher rules will provide “more assurance that ships are going to protect the environment,” he said.

Sixty-one countries representing almost 70 percent of world’s merchant shipping tonnage have ratified the rules under the Ballast Water Management Convention, according to the IMO.

Protecting Arctic

The IMO said it is inviting member governments and international organizations to submit proposals on the types of measures that can be developed to reduce the risks of heavy fuel oil use in Arctic waters. Proposals will be debated at the marine-protection committee’s 72nd meeting in April 2018.

The use of HFO is currently banned in Antarctic waters and the IMO’s Polar Code has recommended that states follow the same practice in the Arctic, the organization said.

The Clean Arctic Alliance said in a statement that it welcomed the move to avoid the risks that an HFO spill poses to local indigenous communities and to the environment. The alliance of not-for-profit organizations seeks to phase out the use of heavy fuel oil as marine fuel in the Arctic.

Heavy fuel oil is a dirty and polluting fossil fuel that powers ships through seas and oceans, according to the Clean Arctic Alliance. Around 75 percent of marine fuel carried in the Arctic is HFO—more than half by vessels flagged to non-Arctic states, which have little if any connection to the Arctic.

“A ban on the use of HFO and carriage of HFO as fuel is the simplest and easiest measure to enforce which will provide the best protection for the Arctic,” Sian Prior, lead adviser to the Clean Arctic Alliance, said in a statement.

2018 Plan

The marine-protection committee “continued to build on the solid work” the IMO “has undertaken to address greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping, and work on track for the adoption of an initial strategy on the reduction of those emissions from ships in 2018, the organization said.

The committee approved terms of reference for the second and third meetings of its Intersessional Working Group to be held in October 2017 and April 2018.

John Maggs, senior policy adviser at the marine protection group Seas At Risk, said in a statement that “some important progress has been made.” But if the process is to produce an initial strategy by 2018, “then it needs to shift up a gear and start focusing on the core issue of how to cut ship emissions deeply in the short term,” he added.

Bill Hemmings, director of shipping and aviation at the Brussels-based environmental group Transport & Environment, was more critical, pointing to the time that has passed since the Paris Agreement reducing greenhouse gas emissions was ratified in December 2015.

“A sense of urgency was lacking and hopes have again been deferred to the next meeting being held in October nearly two years after the Paris Agreement,” he said in a statement.

To contact the correspondent of this story: Ali Qassim at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at

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