Where regulation theory and practice fall down

Last week INTERCARGO – the dry cargo shipowners’ association’s – Technical and Executive Committees met in Athens with a number of issues on the agenda.

Main topics were the Safe Carriage of Cargoes, the non-availability and adequacy of reception facilities for cargo residues and cargo hold washing waters Hazardous to the Marine Environment (HME), Port State Control transparency and anti-corruption practices.

As long as MARPOL regulations have required shipowners to discharge waste in ports rather than dumping at sea, the issue of reception facilities has been a bone of contention.

The IMO regulations impose a requirement on ship operators not to pollute but only encourage port states and ports to provide reception facilities. In practice the facilities are all too often inadequate, expensive and not always available at the short notice that operation of ships demands.

The mismatch has been raised at IMO many times and in 2014 new guidelines were issued as MEPC.1/circ.834​. Despite this, Intecargo reported that feedback from its members have raised a number of issues: Port State Governments need to provide incentives in order for ports and terminals to increase investment in the provision of adequate PRFs; floating plants could be arranged in ports such as barges, in order to reduce discharge times rather than relying on trucks and portable tanks; HME washing water treatment plants need to be located as close as possible to ports or PRFs.

Intercargo has also proposed to IMO a “model port reception facilities” concept with the purpose of assisting IMO and its members to have a more consistent and complete idea about adequate PRFs. Some information is available on the GISIS database but even here costs are not detailed and in many cases there is no information available for specific ports.

The lack of adequate facilities is no doubt one of the main reasons why ships continue to make illegal discharges. Of course, it can never be presented in court as mitigating circumstances but the culpability of ports and port state authorities in this regard should not be underestimated.

Another issue discussed was Port State Control corruption and the lack of any self-assessment structures. This too is an area rich in anecdotal evidence and while Intercargo says it will continue its efforts to persuade regional MoUs to establish auditing schemes and transparency mechanisms with the objective of targeting corruption and misbehaviour it acknowledges that this has regrettably not been sufficiently addressed so far.

It is no secret that fining ships for alleged contraventions of regulations is seen as a revenue stream in many countries and even the discovery of a minor non-conformity can result in a mandatory second and costly inspection.

With the advent of imminent ballast water and exhaust emission checks as new regulatory target dates looms, resolving this issue sooner rather than later would allow many shipowners to sleep more peacefully at night.

Whether the ports and national authorities will play ball on both counts is sadly not very likely given the history of these issues.