Sunday, 27 September 2020

MEPC 73: the mid-week status quo
By Paul Stuart-Smith, IHS Maritime

Steady progress was being made on a range of issues at the 73rd meeting of the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 73) as it reached its half way point on Wednesday afternoon.

Discussion points at the week-long meeting of IMO Member States, representative bodies from the shipping industry and non-governmental organisations include the next steps to be taken in the IMO strategy on reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from ships, issues pertaining to the 2020 sulphur cap, possible improvements to the ballast water management convention, strengthening of the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI), measures to combat marine plastic litter and a ban on carriage of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic. 

Agreement on steps to strengthen the EEDI for container ships and general cargo vessels was reached on Wednesday afternoon. The start date of Phase 3 of the EEDI for these categories of ship will be brought forward by three years from 1 January 2025 to 1 January 2022. It was also agreed that the reduction rate in the EEDI in Phase 3 for container ships will be increased from 30% to 40%. However, a similar proposal to bring forward the Phase 3 start date for large bulkers and tankers did not gain support.

Two attempts in the past two days to complicate the introduction of the 2020 Sulphur Cap have not succeeded. On Tuesday, a proposal to delay the start date of the ban on carriage of non-compliant fuel oil by a ship unless the ship is fitted with an exhaust gas cleaning system (“scrubber”) was defeated. The intended start date of the ban therefore remains 1 March 2020 and the relevant amendment to MARPOL is expected to be adopted by the end of the week.

Late on Wednesday, there was also a conclusion to the previous day’s discussion on a proposal to insert an “experience building phase” (EBP) into the implementation of the Sulphur Cap. There had been media speculation early on Wednesday that this proposal was gaining traction and would be approved. However, since even the sponsors of the proposal had accepted that there is no intention to delay the start of the Sulphur Cap, set for 1 January 2020, it was not clear to many delegates what the precise purpose of the EBP would be. In the event, it was agreed, by way of a compromise, that further ways of ensuring the smooth working of the Sulphur Cap, for example by enhancing measures to ensure fuel oil quality and reporting of non-availability of compliant (low sulphur) fuel oils, could be discussed at the next MEPC meeting in May 2019 (MEPC 74).

Following the breakthrough agreement at MEPC 72 last April on the IMO’s GHG emissions strategy, there may have been some expectation that momentum towards decarbonization of shipping would pick up further at this week’s meeting. The goal of the strategy is to reduce GHG emissions by at least 50% by 2050 and pursue efforts to phase them out entirely as soon as possible thereafter. In reality, the main task for IMO members this week in this area has been to agree a follow up plan of activities to be carried out between now and 2023 to set the strategy in motion. The follow up plan itself was drawn up at last week’s intercessional working group.

Concrete proposals for short-, medium-, and long-term measures to reduce GHG emissions from ships are now due to be considered at MEPC 74. To provide a scientific basis to help determine what these measures should be, on Monday it was agreed to commission a fourth IMO GHG study, the scope for which is being determined at a separate working group this week. The study will calculate the levels of GHG emissions from ships for the period 2012-2018 and provide projections of future emissions out to 2050. Much discussion has centred on how to ensure that these projections will be rigorously and objectively determined. In conjunction with the GHG study, there will also be an assessment of the impact of the GHG strategy on IMO Member States, particularly less developed countries, and those at the end of long shipping routes.

Another working group has been tasked with developing an action plan for dealing with the problem of marine plastic litter from ships, much of it from fishing vessels. Containers lost from ships are also a major source of plastic pollution as well as being a major hazard at sea for smaller vessels. Measures being considered for inclusion in the action plan are improvement of port reception facilities, imposing obligations on fishing vessels to report abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear (ALDFG), marking of fishing gear and a system for marking and tracking containers and mandatory reporting of containers lost overboard. Proposals to include waste water which may include micro-plastics, known as “grey water” in the action plan may prove more controversial.

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