Ballast water management – MEPC 70 – more questions than answers

Malin Group Ballast Blog, Malin Blog, News

Autumn 2016 was always going to be dominated by world politics and the past few weeks have lived up to the bill. Building up to the big voting event, we observed a lot of rumour, big hitting news stories from both sides of the divide, and expert opinion on the key matters at the heart of the vote. We also witnessed politically powerful bodies join the debate, some just days before. The question on the general public’s lips was “which side would triumph?”

Oddly enough we are not talking about the US presidential election; rather, we are talking about the much anticipated 70th meeting of the Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC 70), which took place at IMO headquarters in London, from 24th – 28th October 2016.

For many the event will be remembered for the decisive steps taken to reduce the sulphur content of exhaust emissions – after agreement to implement the 0.5% sulphur content requirement in 2020. However, for ship owners and other industry stakeholders conscious of the impending implementation of the BWM Convention, the decisions, or more accurately, lack thereof, leave a sour taste unlikely to subside anytime soon.

With Entry into Force less than a year away (8th September 2017), MEPC 70 represented a significant opportunity to make some clear and definitive decisions on the implementation of the D-2 standard of the BWM Convention. A Convention that has taken 12 years to ratify, and has been a trending news story for all the wrong reasons for many years. Finally MEPC had a chance to show the ship owning community it was up to the task of leading the implementation of the Convention. Disappointingly, however, it created more questions than answers.

Prior to MEPC 70, the general consensus was that IMO Resolution A.1088(28) would be formally implemented as soon as practical after Entry into Force of the Convention – confirming the IOPP renewal dates after Entry into Force as the D-2 compliance dates. Since December 2013, these are the dates ship owners have been working to and planning for.

However, proposals made by a number of Parties and NGO’s (representatives of ship owners), calling for delays of the D-2 implementation dates for vessels with IOPP renewals due before 8th September 2019 gained noticeable support.

The result of this; the committee was unable to agree on a single implementation scheme for the D-2 standard, and pushed the topic back for further discussion at the next meeting of MEPC 71 in May 2017. The proverbial can was well and truly kicked down the road.

This lack of decisiveness now creates a number of critical issues:

– If the implementation scheme is modified in any way, out-with the previously “agreed” IMO Resolution A.1088(28), the earliest it could be tabled for adoption is at MEPC 72, taking place in March 2018.

– If changes are made; what does this do to IMO Resolution A.1088(28) that was previously unanimously agreed? Will this still be implemented immediately after Entry into Force?

– If not, under these circumstances, do the D-2 compliance dates continue to be as written in Regulation B-3 of the Convention; requiring most vessels to be compliant with the D-2 standard by 8th September 2017?

One would assume common sense would prevail, and, regardless of the decisions made at MEPC 71 in May 2017, IMO Resolution A.1088(28) would still be implemented upon Entry into Force and the IOPP renewal dates would still stand, until adoption of any further changes at MEPC 72 in March 2018.

However, given what we have witnessed from MEPC in recent times, one cannot assume anything. MEPC 71 is a mere 4 months before Entry into Force. In most cases this is nowhere near enough time to procure a ballast water management system (BWMS), never mind carry out all of the engineering, design and installation preparation. Global compliance with D-2 upon Entry into Force is obviously impossible – but if the political wrangling continues – it may be what we are left with.

The authors of the proposals for delays cite numerous justifications for them. But is a potential 18 month delay to implementation really worth all the uncertainty it has now caused? Does any of this really help ship owners?

After all, it would only postpone compliance for vessels with IOPP renewals prior to 8th September 2019 anyway. They will still need to comply, all this would achieve is delaying the inevitable.

The obfuscation has to stop.

Of course, none of this is good news to ship owners who are looking for some clear guidance on when they need to comply.

For the time being, we can only continue to advise owners to prepare for compliance with the D-2 standard at their first IOPP renewal after Entry into Force. Until such time as there is a clear decision by the powers that be to the contrary, we must continue to plan accordingly.

Let’s hope the next MEPC meeting brings more answers than questions…

Chris McMenemy is General Manager at Cleanship Solutions, which is part of Malin Group – a collection of companies offering a comprehensive range of services to the marine industry. To keep up to date please follow us on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/malin-group), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/malingroup/) or on our Instagram (@malin_group), for a steady stream of eclectic and interesting engineering images.

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