Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Reception facilities for ship waste must improve

During an IMO meeting on the marine environment this year, shipping lobby groups submitted a proposal that would delay new regulations banning the dumping of cargo residues at sea; a request based on a presumed lack of adequate facilities to handle such materials. Fortunately for the marine environment, the request was rejected but nevertheless, the need to improve port reception facilities is very real if we are to truly combat ship waste dumping and marine environmental problems such as marine litter.
And oil drum found on a UK beach

On the 1st January 2013, changes made to Annex V of MARPOL– the international convention relating to pollution from ships – will come into force and require a ship to discharge its waste at a port waste reception facility rather than dumping it at sea, as has been the allowance for several waste streams under the existing Annex V.

Loop holes will still exist, but largely speaking the changes are a positive move to deter ship waste dumping.

Under Annex V of MARPOL, waste streams include items such as packaging materials, crockery, wood, glass and cargo residues, to name just a few.

Press clippings of recent legal cases 

In their proposal at the Marine Environment Protection Committee of the International Maritime Organisation, the industry groups argued that because of a presumed lack of adequate reception facilities to handle cargo residues in some ports across the globe, there should be a deferral of the coming into force of new regulations so as to allow for adequate facilities to be put in place and for ships in the meantime to dump cargo residues at sea where those facilities do not exist.

Although some sympathy can be ascribed to the shipping industry in this instance, in reality ship’s have two choices to make rather than dump their waste at sea: 1) if possible they store the cargo residues on board until they visit a port with adequate facilities 2) they only use ports to unload their cargoes where adequate waste reception facilities are in place.

The decision of the IMO not to defer the coming into force of the new Annex V regulations has a very powerful effect because without the obligation on a ship to discharge their waste at a port, there is the potential that some ports will never provide the adequate facilities because of the lack of demand for their use. 

It is now the case that the IMO should conduct a thorough and independent review of port reception facilities across the globe for the purpose of establishing which ports should take remedial measures and to highlight, for the benefit of shippers, the ports who provide adequate facilities.

In addition, the IMO should also ensure that the GISIS system for the reporting of inadequate facilities should become a mandatory requirement for ships because in its present voluntary format, it is likely that the true scale of inadequate facilities is not being represented.

However, the provision of adequate reception facilities in conjunction with stronger international regulations on ship waste is not the end game situation. Ports also have to ensure that ship’s are not deterred from using the facilities. Here, problems associated with the cost of discharging waste and logistical constraints can pose barriers to their use. Again, good policy can be instrumental, and now we have an opportunity for administrations across the globe to assess their own port operations, and take the appropriate measures to ensure that our seas become No Place For Waste.

For more information on marine litter: Click here

By Chris Carroll

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

TFCs putting fishing communities on the brink

An article published by Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera earlier this year has highlighted how the system of Transferable Fishing Concessions has decimated fishing communities on the Danish island of Bornholm – a shocking state of affairs which may also be replicated across Europe.

Fishing has always been the key activity in the Baltic island of Bornholm, providing a livelihood for small scale fishermen across generations. However, Danish fishermen are facing increasing difficulties – from scarce fish resources to low market prices and high operating costs.

In order to address profitability issues, the Danish government has introduced a system of Transferable Fishing Concessions (TFCs), aimed at promoting economic efficiency in the fishing fleet. Each vessel is assigned a fixed proportion of the annual Danish quota, and this right to fish can be transferred or leased among vessels.

Theoretically, this system provides a natural asset to each operator in the fleet, which should induce stewardship for the resource – collapsed fish stocks will make these concessions worthless, whereas healthy populations of fish would make the concession increase in monetary value.

However, assigning a monetary value to a natural resource and allowing users to trade it effectively resulted in a TFC market – where those with the most money can buy out the smaller vessels. As a consequence, fishing quotas are becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of just a few industrial vessel owners – while their crew are left with nothing.

Another perverse effect of the TFC system is that the larger vessels, which are usually more destructive, buy out the smaller, generally more environment-friendly vessels.

The decline of coastal fishing has had profound effects in Bornholm’s society and economy. Its once vibrant processing industry, which at one point in time employed almost 2000 people, has all but disappeared. Young people can no longer aspire to become fishermen as the cost of acquiring a vessel and a TFC is estimated at around EUR 1 million.

However, this cautionary tale might not be the last we hear of TFCs and their effect on the fishing sector. The Corriere della Sera points out that such a scenario could be replicated across the rest of Europe due to the European Commission’s proposal to impose the TFC system on all EU Member States through the current reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. The Commission’s proposal has proved to be extremely controversial and has stirred heated debates in the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.

Seas At Risk is advocating a reform of the CFP which gives Member States the flexibility to choose among a range of fleet management and access management tools. Key among these should be the use of social and environmental access criteria to reward responsible fishing with priority access to fish resources.

By Vera Coelho


Corriere della Sera article (in Italian): http://assets.ocean2012.eu/content_files/files/158/original/Sette-articolo-Pesca-in-Danimarca.pdf

Corriere della Sera article (in English): http://www.ocean2012.eu/press_releases/66-fishing-at-risk-of-sinking

European Commission’s CFP reform proposals: http://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/reform/proposals/index_en.htm

Monday, 13 February 2012

Cutting back on short life carrier bags

Seas At Risk are calling for a Europe wide ban on short life, disposable carrier bags. With 70% of respondents to a European public consultation agreeing that a Europe wide ban on plastic bags is necessary, the pressure is now on the EU to implement a ban that is reasonable, and reduces unnecessary waste.

Firstly, it is important to recognise that a ban on disposable carrier bags is hardly new nor uncommon. In 2009, the UN Under-Secretary-General Achim Steiner stated that single use plastic bags “should be banned or phased-out rapidly everywhere: there is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere”.

Bans on short-life carrier bags is also a growing phenomenon across the globe, notably pursued in both developed and developing nations, and of course Europe already has its own Member State with a ban in place in the form of Italy, who implemented one just last year.

Not all plastics are bad, but some are worse than others

Our call for action on carrier bags primarily concerns short-life disposable bags which are distributed within the retail sector. Our broader interest here is in a shift away from the use of disposable products and a move towards long life, sustainably sourced materials. This is the sort of change in habit that is crucial in order to tackle marine litter and particularly plastic pollution.

The notorious short life carrier bags really are the ultimate low hanging fruit. They are relatively unnecessary products, the alternative use of a long life bag is hardly a major drain on the individual and quantities produced are staggering; according to the EU, the average European citizen uses around 500 plastic carrier bags annually, most of which are used only once.

And this does not even take into consideration the impact on the marine environment. According to data from trawl surveys in the UK and the North Sea, plastic bags make up almost 40% of all marine litter in these locations and in the Bay Biscay most of the waste items found on the seabed were plastic and of those 94% were plastic bags. The impacts of course can be shocking as marine life becomes entangled or dies through ingestion or suffocation and other looming concerns relate to the possible transfer of chemicals from plastics to internal tissues of marine life, and potentially to humans along the food chain.

In addition, it is also important here to expel the perverse argument that measures should not be implemented to deter disposable plastic bag use; on the basis that bags made from other materials would have to be used disproportionately more times in order to match the global warming potential of a disposable bag. This argument is perverse because of course a long life bag should be used multiple times: that’s the point!

Banning what exactly

As regards an EU wide ban, our first demand is that all short-life carrier bags, made from plastic or bio based products, should be banned from distribution in the retail sector. Such a ban could be implemented by considering certain criteria such as the thickness and resistance of the bag.

Our second demand is that long-life carrier bags are only allowed for distribution at a cost. Here, criteria for their design would also be needed to ensure against bags being sold as long-life that in reality end up only lasting for a short period time. In addition, we also propose the allowance to set a levy on such bags to ensure against over-consumption if the price signal fails.

The objective of this approach is of course to encourage the use of bagging that lasts, for years; an objective that is implicit within the EU strategy to “to assist consumers to consume differently in order to reduce the resource use and associated environmental impacts.” Short life carrier bags are only one part of the problem, but there must be EU action here to show there is substance behind these words, to respect the overwhelming opinion of EU citizens and of course to help protect the marine environment against plastic pollution.

This blog is an extended and amended version of a letter that first appeared in the European Voice.