In 1997 the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which is the maritime branch of the United Nations, adopted Annex VI of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). This convention set forth the standards for Green House Gas emission regulation for the majority of the world. MARPOL Annex VI was put into force in 2005 and has been amended over the years as technologies and our understanding evolves. The United States agency tasked with making US regulations in accordance with the IMO is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), whose personnel are some of the members of the US delegation to the IMO.
In 2011 the EPA entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU)
with the US Coast Guard to enforce Annex VI of MARPOL and the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS), APPS is the US law that was written as the US version of MARPOL Annex VI, and gives US agencies the ability to enforce Annex VI on both US flagged ships and Foreign vessels. This MOU defined the way in which the EPA and USCG will jointly and cooperatively enforce MARPOL Annex VI and APPS, through inspections, investigations and the actions that can be taken in the event that a violation is detected.
US Approach to Annex VI Enforcement
The United States has been prosecuting MARPOL violators for many years with the vast majority of those being in the form of either an LOW (letter of warning) or NOV’s (notice of violation). The prosecution of a company who has been issued a NOV could result in a fine of $10,000, but law enforcement also have the ability to pursue civil penalties of up to $75,000 per violation. This type of action could also produce a referral to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or to the Department of Justice. These types of actions have historically been taken when records have been falsified in the form of an Oil Record Book, Bunker Delivery Notes, or modifications have been made to the Oily Water separator.
As recently as 2019 the US pursued its first prosecution of an Annex VI violation. Two companies were charged and found guilty of using non-compliant fuels inside the Caribbean ECA (Emissions Control Area), failing to maintain an accurate Oil Record Book, maintaining false Bunker Delivery Notes, and obstruction of justice. This conviction serves as a message to the world that the United States is taking compliance with MARPOL very seriously. In the preceding years we can expect to see more of these types of violations found and prosecuted.
This example enumerated above requires little corrective action, because the cause of these indiscretions was blatant and malicious attempts to circumvent the law. However, most scenarios involving Annex VI violations deal with improperly kept oil record books, or bunker delivery notes. Every seafarer knows that keeping complete and concise records is imperative to the proper functioning of the vessel. From the oil record book to the daily log, these instruments allow the crew to see trends in the functioning of the machinery and to maintain proper hand over when new crew join the vessel. It is a very rare occasion when a vessel is found to be in violation of Annex VI by intentionally using improper fuels or the illegal discharge of fuels in special areas. To that end, there are several software programs companies can use that will inform the crew where they are and are not allowed to discharge. ChartCo for example, has developed a program called EnviroManager. This program can be used as a stand alone or in conjunction with ChartCo’s PassageManager software. This program uses GPS to constantly update and color code areas to indicate the types of discharges that are allowed.
There are also technologies that help to prevent the emission of greenhouse gasses from ships such as scrubbers in the exhaust system. These scrubbers allow vessels to burn fuels with higher sulfur contents and still be in compliance with the APPS and MARPOL Annex VI. With help from a catalytic element, scrubbers can reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted into the atmosphere from large Diesel engines.
Another simple way to reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses from ships, especially sulfur, is through the use of low sulfur fuels. While low sulfur fuels do mean less sulfur in the exhaust they also mean a higher cost to the operating companies, and this higher costs eventually trickle down to the consumer of the goods being transported.
The international maritime Organization (IMO) adopted the initial strategy to reduce greenhouse gasses from ships in 2018. This strategy aims to reduce the greenhouse gasses emitted from international shipping by 40% by 2030 and a further 30% by 2050, this is in comparison to the 2008 GHG levels. The overall goal is to phase out greenhouse Gas emissions entirely as soon as possible within this century.
There are several changes the IMO intends to make in order to meet these goals. These include improving the power and propulsion systems on ships efficiency by 5-15%, increasing the use of biofuels by up to 90%, and improving fleet management, logistics and incentives by 5-50% just to name a few. In fact, all ships built from 2025 and on will be an astounding 30% more energy efficient.
With these goals in mind the IMO is set to review and revise the initial strategy in 2023. This of course will mean more aggressive regulations by the EPA and US Coast Guard within the next five to seven years. Again the initial strategy is to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in international shipping by 40% in seven years.
Because we currently face a supply chain backlog in the global environment, which is slowly improving, some expect this to precipitate the relaxation of some of these regulations. However, the global stance on the climate change crisis leaves little room to avoid the pressure applied on multiple fronts to tackle what many are now calling the global climate emergency. The United States is becoming more aggressive in their pursuit of APPS and MARPOL Annex VI violations. As these regulations continue to tax the maritime industry, seafarers and shipping companies must be prepared to adapt to them. The constant innovations throughout the maritime industry are improving the situation and making these changes more affordable and easier to accept.