73rd meeting of IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), 22-26 October 2018

By Lars Lange, IUMI Secretary General

Implementation of the sulphur 2020 limit: The new lower 0.50% limit on sulphur in ships’ fuel oil will come into force from 1 January 2020, under the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) treaty. The new limit will be applicable globally - while in designated emission control areas (ECAs) the limit will remain even lower, at 0.10%. To ease the implementation of the new rules, MEPC 73 adopted a MARPOL amendment to prohibit the carriage of non-compliant fuel oil for combustion purposes for propulsion or operation on board a ship - unless the ship has an exhaust gas cleaning system ("scrubber") fitted. The MEPC also approved guidance on ship implementation planning and guidance on best practice for fuel oil suppliers. MEPC 74 will have further considerations on how to assure sufficient availability of compliant fuel by 2020.

Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from ships: The MEPC approved the programme of follow-up actions of the initial IMO strategy on reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from ships up to 2023. The programme of action is intended to be used as a planning tool in meeting the timelines identified in the initial IMO strategy, which was adopted by MEPC 72 in April 2018. The committee invited concrete proposals on candidate short-term measures to the next committee session, MEPC 74 in May 2019. The MEPC approved in this context as well the terms of reference for the fifth meeting of the Intersessional Working Group on reduction of GHG emissions from ships, to be held ahead of MEPC 74. The intersessional group will be tasked with, among other things, considering concrete proposals for assessing the impacts on States of candidate measures; and considering concrete proposals on candidate short-term measures.

Fourth IMO GHG study: The MEPC developed draft terms of reference for the fourth IMO GHG Study, which should be initiated in 2019. It was agreed that an expert workshop should be held in order to discuss technical and methodological issues and advise the committee on the terms of reference of the study. The fourth IMO GHG Study is intended to provide an update of emissions estimates for international shipping for the period 2012 to 2018 and may include scenarios for future shipping emissions and estimates of carbon intensity.

Strengthening the EEDI requirements: The MEPC received the interim report of the review of the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) “beyond phase 2”. The EEDI phases bring in increasingly greater energy efficiency requirements compared to the reference line. The possibility of bringing forward the phase 3 requirement to 2022 (from 2025), for certain ships, was discussed, as well as a proposal to increase the energy efficiency improvement to 40% (from 30%) for container ships. The MEPC invited concrete proposals to the next session (MEPC 74) for further discussion of the proposed amendments. 

Action plan on marine plastic litter adopted: The MEPC adopted an action plan to address marine plastic litter from ships, intended to contribute to the global solution for preventing marine plastic litter entering the oceans through ship-based activities.

The action plan identifies a number of actions, which will be reviewed at MEPC 74 prior to further work being undertaken, including a proposed study on marine plastic litter from ships and strengthening international cooperation, in particular the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and UN Environment. The loss of containers from ships will also be considered in this initiative and a mandatory reporting system shall be introduced. Mandatory tracking devices for each container was discussed but found no majority.

Ballast water management treaty implementation: The International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments, 2004 (BWM Convention), entered into force in September 2017 and has, to date, been ratified by 79 countries, representing 80.94% of world merchant shipping tonnage. The MEPC approved guidance on system design limitations of ballast water management systems and their monitoring, and guidance for the commissioning testing of ballast water management systems. The committee adopted amendments to update the guidelines for ballast water management and development of ballast water management plans (G4) to address the incorporation of information on contingency measures in ballast water management plans.

Furthermore, it was agreed that two new outputs should be included in its agenda:

  • Review of the BWM Convention based on data gathered in the experience-building phase.
  • Urgent measures emanating from issues identified during the experience-building phase of the BWM Convention.

Both with a target completion year of 2023. The committee also instructed the HTW Sub-committee on Human Element, Training and Watchkeeping to develop training provisions for seafarers related to the BWM Convention, with a target completion year of 2021.

Use and carriage of heavy fuel oil as fuel by ships in Arctic waters: IMO has agreed that the sub-committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR) should develop a ban on heavy fuel oil for use and carriage as fuel by ships in Arctic waters, based on an assessment of the impacts of such a ban. MEPC 73 considered submissions related to an appropriate impact assessment methodology process and forwarded them to PPR 6 in February 2019 to finalise the methodology. Currently, the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil is banned in the Antarctic under MARPOL Annex I regulation 43. It is recommended in the Polar Code that the same rules are applied in the Arctic waters.