Shipping’s first environmental controls
With the possible exception of the polluting potential of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic and a movement to ban its use as a fuel in the high latitudes, almost all recent environmental regulation has been concerned with exhaust emissions.
Most would consider MARPOL to be the source of most regulation against pollution and to some extent this is true but regulation of discharge of oil from operational sources had been regulated for over 20 years before the first edition of MARPOL was drafted.
The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil (OILPOL) was formulated at London in 1954. The 1954 Convention came into force in 1958 and was amended in 1962, 1969 and 1971. It was eventually superseded by the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) and its measures are now included there.
OILPOL did not put a complete ban on disposal at sea and merely prohibited the dumping of oily wastes within a certain distance from land and in ‘special areas’ where the danger to the environment was especially acute. It also imposed a requirement for contracting parties to provide reception facilities but, more than half a century on, the lack of facilities is still a bone of contention for the industry. OILPOL was mainly concerned with operational discharges as was the 1973 version of MARPOL drawn up by the IMO.
This was to be amended by the Protocol of 1978 adopted in response to a spate of tanker accidents in 1976-1977. As the 1973 MARPOL Convention had not yet entered into force, the 1978 MARPOL Protocol absorbed the parent Convention. The combined instrument entered into force on 2
October 1983. Most of the measures in MARPOL are the province of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) which is also entrusted with the development of other environmental conventions.
Pollution of the seas by oil is covered by Annex I of MARPOL. Because of the recent pre-occupation at the IMO with ballast water, energy efficiency and emissions to air, any changes to the requirements of Annex I have generally been related to administrative matters rather than introducing any new requirements. The driving factor behind MARPOL in the early days were numerous pollution incidents mostly involving oil spills but the rules also cover smaller scale operational pollution and in most jurisdictions these are treated as being more serious in terms of criminal negligence than accidental loss of cargo or bunkers as a result of grounding or collision.
As well as pollution by oil and related substances covered in ANNEX I of MARPOL, the same topics are also included in the US EPA’s VGP introduced in 2008. The major part of ANNEX I is actually concerned with construction and cargo operations of oil tankers over 150gt and the parts which affect other vessel types over 400gt is confined to a very few operational matters as well as the form and issuing of the International Oil Pollution Prevention Certificate (needed in most ports to obtain customs clearance) and the need for ships to have and maintain an oil record book.