IMO meeting spells end for TBT on ships

Marine environmental protection committee votes for early ban, takes on end-of-life ships

Ship anti-fouling paints containing poisonous organotins could be banned from use on ships around the world within a decade, following support expressed by major ship-owning states for the adoption of an international treaty by 2001.

Meeting in London last week, the marine environment protection committee of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) called for a conference to be held within two years to finalise a treaty, which would ban the application of organotin antifoulants from 2003 and outlaw their presence on ships from 2008 (ENDS Daily 6 November 1998).

Organotins such as tributyltin (TBT) are widely used as antifoulants but are toxic and bio-persistent and have been implicated in numerous cases of environmental damage (ENDS Daily 29 June). Alternatives have been well-established for coastal vessels but are only just emerging for ocean-going ships (ENDS Daily 9 June).

Environmental group WWF is campaigning for a ban on the substance but had feared that a lack of will would delay adoption of the treaty. However, campaigner Siân Pullen told ENDS Daily today that of six countries which together own over 50% of the world's shipping fleet, three - Panama, Greece and Cyprus - had expressed support for an early conference. The other three - Liberia, Malta and the Bahamas - had not sought to delay the ban, she said. European Union countries, the United States and Japan were strongly in favour of a ban, she added.

The meeting also voted to include the issue of ship scrapping in third world countries on the IMO's agenda. The practice is opposed by environment groups on worker safety grounds but has been defended by industry, which nonetheless acknowledges problems with hazardous substances on ships at the end of their lifetimes (ENDS Daily 24 June). The debate revolves around the classification of ships as waste and has prompted the EU to work on a clarification of its regulations on the subject.

Norway will now submit proposals for scrapping guidelines while the IMO considers binding regulations, which an environment ministry official said yesterday still had "a long way to go." The Norwegian ship-owners' association would be involved in the drafting process, he said, but the country still had a "lot of work to do" before the next committee meeting in March to win over some third-world countries such as India, which fear the loss of foreign exchange if the practice is restricted.

Follow Up:
IMO, tel: +44 171 417 8844; WWF-UK, tel: +44 1483 426 444; Norwegian environment ministry, tel: +47 22 24 90 90.

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