Dramatic IMO meeting postpones limits on NOx and ballast water

The IMO has postponed the date for when ships must be able to clean their ballast and for when shipowners will have to comply with the requirements for NOx emissions. The atmosphere is still tense at the meeting in London, where the participating parties are in strong disagreement.
Photo: IMO
Photo: IMO

It seems like none of the participants at the meeting of the IMO's environmental committee got exactly what they wanted. The introduction of the ballast water convention's requirements has been postponed with a longer introductory phase. Shipping companies are pleased while suppliers are disappointed. At the same time, a postponement of the date for when the NOx requirements become effective has been pushed another five years. Neither the environmental organizations, the Danish shipowners, nor the suppliers are pleased with that, while several EU countries may have to ask themselves if they were properly prepared for the meeting.

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The ballast water and NOx decisions were made yesterday. A new transitional scheme will come into effect for ballast water if the decision, as customary at the IMO, is ratified at the next IMO general assembly in November. The transitional scheme will mean that ships won't have to document the cleaning of ballast water until after they've docked, instead of being bound by a set time limit. The transitional scheme was recommended by a work group that included many member states, which is one of the reasons the decision is expected to be ratified later this year. As for the NOx requirements, a new deadline for the requirements was set yesterday. Instead of 2016, the deadline is now 2019. 19 countries voted in favor of the postponement, which was proposed by Russia, while 14 countries voted against it.

Shipowners pleased, suppliers displeased

The decision to change the circumstances regarding the introduction of the ballast water convention is a necessary and important solution, says the Danish Shipowners' Association.

"Everyone in the group agreed to establish a transitional scheme, so this is a statement from the member states that this really is the solution they want. We're pleased with that. The risk of not establishing a transitional scheme was that the entire convention could fall apart. Now instead, the expectation is that countries that cover the last 6 percent of the world's tonnage, which are still missing in order to achieve a final ratification of the proposal, will join the proposal," says Peter Olsen, head of secretariat at the Danish Shipowners' Association, to ShippingWatch.

But this solution was not even close to what suppliers were hoping for. Danish Maritime has expressed its great disapproval of the decision, which it believes could hurt suppliers that have already begun long development processes and put a lot of work into creating the ballast water system, the last three of which just received final approval at the MEPC meeting.

The NOx battle might still be won

The suppliers are also displeased with the decision to postpone the NOx requirements as, according to the IMO's own correspondence group, the technological solutions available are adequate to fulfill the NOx requirements, which renders the technology argument pointless in relation to postponing the requirements. The Danish Shipowners' Association isn't pleased with the postponement either, as several Danish shipping companies have been working on NOx projects and have been focused on the fact that all newbuildings would have to carry NOx reducing technologies starting in 2016.

But the battle regarding the NOx requirements, which countries such as Russia and Poland were surprisingly able to postpone, something that the countries voting in favor of the requirements should maybe have foreseen, has not been lost yet. This because the decision still has to be ratified at the next MEPC meeting. And the ratfication has to happen with 2/3 majority of the member states. So if the advocates in favor of the requriements manage to convince 1/3 of the member states to votes against the Russian proposal before the 66th meeting of the MEPC, held in March 2014. the NOx requirements won't be postponed after all. This matter will of course only be settled through time and diplomacy, though several environmental organizations have already joined the suppliers in condemning the postponement.

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