Ban for single-hull oil tankers, finally

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has finally agreed to eliminate the use of single-hull tankers, blamed for major environmental disasters such as the Erika and Exxon Valdez oil spills.

More than a year after the European Union acted to ban single-hull oil tankers (see related story), in the wake of the Erika spill off the Brittany coast in 1999 (see related story), and after the US’s tightening of maritime safety standards after 1989’s Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska, the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) finally approved a new global timetable for accelerating the phase-out of single-hull oil tankers on 30 April.

At the end of the MEPC’s meeting, delegates from IMO’s 158 member States agreed to a timetable that will see most single-hull oil tankers eliminated by 2015 or earlier and replaced with double-hull tankers which offer greater protection of the environment from pollution. All new oil tankers built since 1996 are already required to have double hulls. The new regulation will enter into force in September 2002, which IMO says is the earliest possible time permitted. The revised regulation applies to all oil tankers of 5,000 tonnes deadweight and above, but, although the new phase-out timetable sets 2015 as the principal cut-off date for all single-hull tankers, the flag state administration may allow for some newer single hull ships registered in its country that conform to certain technical specifications to continue trading until the 25th anniversary of their delivery, but these can now be denied port entry. For example, the European Union, together with Cyprus and Malta, indicated that they would deny port entry to single-hull tankers beyond 2015.

Other key environmental issues adopted were a draft convention to eliminate the use of toxic anti-fouling paints on ships, measures to prevent or minimise the carriage of harmful organisms in ships’ ballast water, following reports of an introduced species of marine shellfish spread by ballast in ocean-going ships to Sydney Harbour, altering habitats to the detriment of native species (see related story) and for the prevention of air pollution from ships.

According to IMO Secretary-General William O’Neil, IMO has demonstrated quite clearly that it can respond to the needs of member governments and the world shipping community. “To deal with the fallout from the Erika we worked out a schedule…which advanced the date of this session of the MEPC so that any amendments adopted now could be put into force as soon as the IMO Convention allows. The adoption of the proposed amendments…reaffirms IMO’s position as the proper forum for dealing with complex technical, economic and political issues concerning international shipping, where significant differences in viewpoints can be resolved and a solution found that is acceptable to all.”

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