MEPC 79 – a new SECA

In recent times, the MEPC meetings at the IMO have produced some of the most controversial decisions for the shipping industry.

by Adam

In recent times, the MEPC meetings at the IMO have produced some of the most controversial decisions for the shipping industry. MEPC 79, held on 12-16 December 2022, was notable for some divergence of opinion on subjects that looked reasonably settled although several issues passed the last hurdle.

Perhaps the decision likely to have most impact was the establishment of a Mediterranean Emission Control Area for sulphur oxides and particulate matter. The requirement will be the same as for other sulphur ECAs, mandating the use of fuel oil with a sulphur content not exceeding 0.10% or the use of an exhaust gas cleaning system. The amendments will enter into force on 1 May 2024, and the requirements take effect on 1 May 2025. MEPC 79 agreed in principle to designate the North-western Mediterranean Sea as a PSSA (Particularly Sensitive Sea Area). The associated protective measures need to be further developed before the area is designated as a PSSA.

The decision on establishing the SECA was expected but could have an unintended impact on ship routeing in the future. Ships calling at EU ports were already obliged to burn fuels not above 0.1% sulphur content while in port, but the remainder of the Mediterranean Sea area was otherwise treated as open water.

Some ship operators were already considering diverting ships away from using the Suez Canal and around Africa because the canal dues and falling freight rates were impacting profitability. The need to burn more expensive fuels in the future might add to that decision.

Scrubbers under the spotlight

It may also spur increased scrubber adoption especially as the meeting also discussed the future use of scrubbers with some calling for them to be banned. No decisions were taken at the meeting which delegated more work on the subject to sub-committees and working groups. It is unlikely that the IMO would prevent ships from using scrubbers already installed in any future regulation.

A brief discussion on the merits of Carbon Capture on board took place in relation to GHG measures but this was deferred to the next MEPC meeting in June 2023. This could be interesting to follow as some scrubber makers are already implementing or exploring the potential of incorporating carbon capture into scrubber systems.

Stepping back on GHG emissions?

The discussion on GHG measures was an area where some noticeable resistance to future progress was evident. Previously the IMO was targeting 2050 for full decarbonisation but at this meeting there were many calls for further assessment of the feasibility of this ambition. Almost certainly this stepping back was due to the impact of the cost of decarbonisation at a time when the global economy is being hit by rising energy costs and looking to enter a period of recession. The meeting also revised the Guidance (MEPC.1/Circ.885) on process and methodological elements for the conduct of comprehensive impact assessments on states of any GHG reduction initiatives.

Several proposals were made at the meeting around future measures on GHG emissions with a levy scheme being the most popular. However, it was agreed that there needs to be further work on determining whether a ‘well-to-wake’ or a ‘tank-to-wake’ was most appropriate given that the emissions involved in producing ‘green fuels’ needed to be considered as well. There was also discussion on a possible rebate system where the revenue raised from any levy are partly provided back to vessels to cover the price gap between fossil and low or zero-carbon fuels. These measures will be discussed further in working groups reporting back to MEPC 80 next year.

Criticism of the IMO’s CII measures for existing ships has been growing in recent months with many shipowners and industry bodies highlighting that they could have a negative effect because of the flawed methods of calculation. Considering the diverging views expressed, it is likely that decisions to add further correction factors will only be taken at the review of CII in 2025. Thus, it is unlikely that the call for enforcement actions against ships measured in bands D and E will have any immediate impact, the IMO having already decided that enforcement action was not appropriate at this moment.

Bilge alarm guideline changes on the cards

An interesting agenda point raised by China looks likely to result in an amendment to the MEPC.107(49) guidelines for oil water separator bilge alarms.

In recent years it has been found that the 15ppm bilge alarm does not give a warning or alarm when the sample water pipe is blocked, and no sample water enters the test. Meanwhile, the 15 ppm bilge separator could still work normally, resulting in the untested oily water by the 15 ppm bilge alarm being discharged overboard.

A manual stop valve is installed on the sampling pipe of the 15 ppm bilge alarm on some ships, which are approved by recognized organizations. However, any inadvertent or deliberate operation to close the valve during the operation of the equipment would lead to the failure of the 15 ppm bilge alarm to detect truly representative sample water. MEPC.107(49) does not give specific requirements on the situation in which the 15 ppm bilge alarm had lost the sample water.

In response to this issue, China submitted documents MEPC 77/14/2 and PPR 9/19/3 and proposed to amend the Revised guidelines and specifications for pollution prevention so as to improve relevant provisions and ensure the proper functioning of onboard pollution prevention equipment.

A solution already used in some ships would be a flow or pressure sensor installed so that the alarm can be triggered in the event that a 15-ppm bilge alarm has lost sample water. The meeting instructed this issue to be added to the work programme and for it to be further discussed at MEPC 80. Rivertrace already offer solutions for this.

Amendments to MARPOL Annex VI, Appendix V were adopted to extend the information to be included in the BDN to also include the flashpoint of the fuel oil, or alternatively a statement that the flashpoint has been measured at or above 70°C. The amendments will enter into force on 1 May 2024.

MEPC 79 agreed to revise the terms of reference for the IMO study on marine plastic litter from ships to make it more specific by adopting a stepwise approach and pursue subprojects that address specific data gaps. Member states and international organizations were invited to submit proposals to MEPC 80 to assist the Committee on how to progress with the IMO Study.

Ballast water changes

On the topic of Ballast Water, MEPC 79 approved a number of ballast water treatment systems and also discussed and established a list of fundamental principles to consider when developing further guidance for ships encountering challenging water quality when taking ballast on board.

This is necessary since the revised type approval process recognises that under some circumstances, poor water quality will challenge the abilities of systems to meet the D2 standard. Ships are expected to return to D-2 compliance after experiencing challenging uptake water and bypassing a BWM system should only be used as a last resort. Communication with the port receiving the uptake water is crucial. Further work on guidelines will be conducted at MEPC 80 in July 2023.

MEPC 79 agreed that it should be permitted to use ballast tanks for temporary storage of treated sewage and grey water. Guidance will be developed at the next MEPC to set out appropriate actions and uniform procedures to ensure compliance with the BWM Convention, and in particular the D-2 standard, when the ballast tanks are returned to ballast water storage.

The meeting decided to revise the format of required ballast water record book required under the convention to bring it in line with the format of oil record books. The amendments will be circulated for adoption at MEPC 80 in July 2023.

Other measures involving future work programmes were a new output for the revision of MARPOL Annex II to improve the effectiveness of cargo tank stripping, tank washing operations and prewash procedures for products with a high melting point and/or high viscosity.