The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is the United Nations agency that sets global standards for the safety, security and environmental performance of international shipping. It has near universal state membership as well as strong non-government organisation and industry representation.
New Zealand is a signatory to a number of binding agreements under the IMO. An example of one of these is the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, also known as MARPOL.
IMO conventions and treaties and what they mean for ships
There are a large number of international conventions and treaties under the IMO which constitute agreements between countries and set out frameworks and standards for global shipping.
These agreements contain a ‘no more favourable treatment’ requirement which means that countries that sign up to these, (also known as Party states) must apply the obligations under that agreement (eg, MARPOL) to its own ships, and all other foreign ships in waters under their jurisdiction.
This applies regardless of whether the foreign-flagged ships have ratified the relevant convention. The benefit of this is that, generally speaking, it binds all ships to the same standards.
This means that:
- any New Zealand ship visiting the ports or transiting the internal waters of another country, must be compliant with any agreement that country has signed up to, even if we are not yet Party to that particular agreement
- similarly, we can expect any visiting ship in our waters to be compliant with any agreements that New Zealand is Party to – even if that ship’s country is not a Party to the agreement we have signed.
New Zealand and MARPOL
MARPOL is one of the most important IMO conventions for regulating marine pollution from shipping. This convention includes six annexes which regulate various different types of pollution.
Currently, New Zealand has ratified the annexes that regulate pollution from oil (Annex I), chemicals (Annex II), harmful substances (Annex III), and garbage (Annex V).
New Zealand agencies with responsibilities for ensuring we meet our MARPOL obligations
A number of agencies have responsibilities for ensuring that domestic legislation gives effect to our obligations under MARPOL and its annexes.
The Ministry for the Environment, Ministry of Transport, Maritime NZ, and Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) collectively administer and implement relevant acts and rules.
These include the following Acts on the New Zealand Legislation website.
- Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012
- maritime and marine protection rules under the Maritime Transport Act 1994
- Resource Management Act 1991 with its associated Marine Pollution Regulations.
New Zealand and signing up to Annex VI
New Zealand has announced its intention to accede (sign up) to MARPOL Annex VI. The process is being led by the Ministry of Transport.
Find more information on MARPOL Annex VI: treaty to reduce air pollution in ports and harbours [Ministry of Transport website]
Annex VI regulates all emissions to the atmosphere from ships, and sets limits on certain pollutants such as sulphur and nitrogen oxides. Acceding to Annex VI will have emissions-control benefits as well as enabling New Zealand to more closely monitor and enforce compliance by ships. In the longer term, Annex VI will be a mechanism through which the IMO can radically reduce global CO2 emissions from shipping. This reduction will align the shipping industry with 2015 Paris Agreement climate change goals.
Annex VI – recent changes to the sulphur limit, and scrubber systems
As of 1 January 2020, Annex VI reduced the allowable sulphur content in marine fuel from 3.5 percent to 0.5 percent. This will yield significant global health and environmental benefits, especially in coastal areas and port cities.
Ships can meet the sulphur limit by using either compliant (low-sulphur) fuel, or through the use of an ‘alternative’ way of meeting the limit, such as an exhaust gas cleaning system (scrubber).
Scrubbers systems use either seawater or modified freshwater to remove gases and other combustion products from the ship’s exhaust. They then sometimes discharge scrubber effluent back into the ocean. The discharges contain a number of contaminants, and the type and amount of effluent depends on whether the scrubber is a ‘closed’ or ‘open’ loop system.
Some ships carry hybrid scrubbers which can operate in both open and closed loop mode. The main concerns are around the contaminants in the effluent and uncertainty as to the potential risks to the marine environment.
The Ministry for the Environment is currently in the process of assessing the risks relating to the use of scrubbers.
Expectations for foreign flagged ships entering NZ waters, whom are Party to Annex VI
Although New Zealand has not yet signed up to Annex VI, our expectation is that ships will be operating in accordance with their own Party state’s obligations under this agreement, providing this is consistent with relevant NZ domestic law. Once New Zealand has ratified and fully implemented Annex VI, we will be monitoring and enforcing these obligations for all ships in our waters.
Roles of respective New Zealand agencies in regards to Annex VI accession, and assessment of scrubber discharges
The Ministry of Transport is leading the work on accession to Annex VI, including working closely with Maritime NZ on amendments to legislation and regulations to enable effective implementation. Maritime NZ will develop amendments to Marine Protection Rules covering all Annex VI requirements, and will be the primary agency for compliance and enforcement. This will include monitoring how vessels are following IMO guidance on scrubber operation, and supporting associated port processes.
The Ministry for the Environment is leading the specific work in relation to scrubbers, and developing appropriate policy to support a national position – including the investigation of options for amending New Zealand’s domestic regulatory framework as necessary.