The new world of ocean shipping regulations

April 23, 2018 - From reducing emissions to adopting new technologies

For all stakeholders in maritime transportation regulation, all eyes were on London during the second week of April and meetings being held there by the Maritime Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC) of the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO). After some debate, the MEPC adopted a strategy for further reductions by the shipping industry of CO2 emissions, a plan which represented a middle ground among member states participating in the meeting.

The MEPC adopted goals that would reduce ocean-carrier emissions by 50% by 2050, compared to 2008 levels. That matched the position being pushed by Norway’s government and its shipowners’ association and supported by industry groups like the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and Canada’s Chamber of Marine Commerce (CMC). Some officials of the European Union, including its climate commissioner and transportation commissioner, advocated for 70% to 100% cuts in emissions by mid-century, while the United States and Saudi Arabia were reportedly dragging their feet earlier in the week over adopting the standards eventually agreed upon.

Regulatory Issues

The question of CO2 emissions is perhaps the primary regulatory issue facing the international maritime industry, but it’s certainly not the only one. Other regulatory developments on the environmental front include new measures for sulfur oxide emissions, ballast water systems, and ocean pollution, while others relate to new technologies like autonomous shipping. A common thread that runs through all of these developments is the effort being exerted to develop worldwide regulations and standards for a global industry.

In London, advocates emphasized that the strategy adopted matches the expectations of the Paris climate agreement and sets global standards. “Agreement upon a mid-century objective for the total reduction of CO2 emissions by the sector, regardless of trade growth, is vital to discourage unilateral action and to provide the signal needed to stimulate the development of zero-CO2 fuels” said Esben Poulsson, the ICS chairman.

The importance of a global approach was also endorsed by a North American group. “Similar to the airline industry, marine shipping is an international business and it is important that we have one global solution to the challenge of climate change,” said Bruce Burrows, president of the Chamber of Marine Commerce, an Ottawa-based organization. “Marine shipping is already the most carbon-efficient way to transport goods, but given projections for increasing world trade, the sector recognizes that more needs to be done internationally to continue that progress.”

The MEPC’s new greenhouse gas (GHG) standards represents the second stage of a three-step approach under an IMO strategy agreed to in 2016 for reducing emissions from ships. The first is a set of requirements for ships to collect data on their fuel oil consumption which entered into force on March 1, 2018 with amendments to International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL).

The reporting requirements under those amendments will begin on January 1, 2019, with data to be reported at the end of each year to the IMO. The purpose is to inform further measures needed to enhance energy efficiency and to address GHG emissions related to international shipping.

Under new Regulation 22A, ships of 5,000 gross tons and above are required to collect consumption data for each type of fuel oil they use. These ships account for 85% of CO2 emissions from international shipping. Data will be reported to flag states each year, and the flag state must determine the data has been properly reported and issue a statement of compliance to the ship.

Also on the environmental front, a global treaty meant to halt invasive aquatic species through vessel ballast water entered into force less than a year ago. Ballast water is taken on by ships for stability and structural integrity, but can contain thousands of aquatic microbes, algae, and animals, which are carried across oceans and released into ecosystems where they are not native. Hundreds of invasions have already taken place, sometimes with devastating consequences for local economies and infrastructures.

“The entry into force of the Ballast Water Management Convention provides a global level playing field for international shipping,” said IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim, “providing clear and robust standards for the management of ballast water on ships.”

The Ballast Water Management (BMW) Convention requires all ships in international trade to manage their ballast water and sediments, according to a ship-specific ballast water management plan. All ships must carry a ballast water record book and an International Ballast Water Management Certificate. The BWM Convention was adopted in 2004 by the IMO.

Existing ships must initially meet the D-1 standard outlined in the convention, which requires them to exchange their ballast water at least 200-nautical miles from land and in water at least 200 meters deep. New ships must meet the D-2 standard, which specifies the maximum amount of organisms allowed to be discharged. Eventually, all ships will be required to adhere to the D-2 standard, which could mean retrofitting older vessels with new equipment.

Autonomous Ships

With research and development into autonomous shipping advancing rapidly, the Danish Maritime Authority published a report earlier this year which promoted the message that maritime regulation should be made more flexible to support the development of autonomous ships.

“Part of current regulation is based on traditions dating back to the age of sail,” said Denmark’s Minister for Industry, Business, and Financial Affairs Brian Mikkelsen. “That needs to improve.”

The overall approach taken by the report is that autonomous ships must be at least as safe as conventional ships. The report provides a recommendation that regulation in this area be agreed upon internationally and more specifically in the International Maritime Organization. Denmark is pushing to get this topic to the top of the international agenda.

The report provides a number of specific recommendations on preparing regulations for autonomous technologies, including, not surprisingly, examining the regulation on the manning of vessels, the definition of the term “master,” and periodically allowing unmanned bridges and electronic lookouts.

“In a globalized industry,” said Mikkelsen, “regulation and standards for autonomous ships must be international. This is the only way to ensure significant global development in this area.”

Source: American Journal of Transportation