Maritime policies have been the cornerstone of shipping business. They are considered as an area of study covering and emphasizing on issues such as environment, safety, subsidies, taxation and inter-modalism. Policies taken on the International level (IMO) such as SOLAS, MARPOL, and the ISM code have been hugely significant in regulating the shipping industry. Nonetheless, in our recent days, the new annexes of SOLAS and MARPOL are posing several challenges and ambiguities on ship owners and shipping companies.
Before mentioning these challenges, it is worth noting the importance of these policies. In fact, they ensure green and safe movement of vessels, and at the same time they give an added value to the company particularly the double –hull convention and the ISM code. To clarify, the ISM code main objectives are: 1) maintenance of ship and equipment; 2) safety and environmental protection policy; 3) development of plans for shipboard operations; 4) company responsibilities and authority; 5) emergency preparedness; 6) reports, non-conformities, accidents and hazardous occurrences; 7) certification, verification and control. Shipowners have been very keen to comply with the International regulations simply because their tankers will be chartered by worldwide reputable oil companies such as ESSO and Shell. In fact, these companies do their own surveying since they adopt the “zero tolerance policy” when it comes to oil spills from tankers. The reason behind that is to avoid accidents and spills like the Erika and Prestige.
Despite the great importance of these policies as mentioned above, they have been posing several challenges and ambiguities on shipowners and shipping companies. To begin with, on the 1st of January, 2015 ships operating in an emission – control areas must be fitted with engine emissions in order to reduce sulfur and carbon dioxide. In addition, along comes the ballast water convention, which will oblige ship owners to fit filters onboard in order to protect the local aquatic ecosystem caused by the unwanted introduction of foreign micro-organisms. Let us take the ballast water treatment system as an example, it is estimated that this equipment will cost between 1-5 million US dollars!
However, apart from the costs along come the ambiguities. To clarify, the ballast water treatment system and the technology that has to do with emissions are not available so far. Frankly speaking, the IMO while issuing policies are not checking if the required technologies are currently available. They are assuming that they will be available in the future when the conventions will come into force. Moreover, what make things much more complex and vague is the fact that there is no cooperation between policy makers particularly on the International level (IMO) and others on the national level (US). To illustrate, the ballast water treatment systems that enjoy certification from the IMO do not have automatic acceptance under the US rules, but must undergo a separate review. Some experts anticipated that the US might require more difficulty for equipment makers to satisfy than the IMO standards. These issues will leave ship owners in limbo.
At last, despite the fact that the IMO is not being sensible and pragmatic while issuing policies, it is worth remembering that these policies seem to be perfect solutions and positive approaches to build a sustainable and cleaner future for the forthcoming generations.
Omar Musharafieh, MA International Maritime Policy Student