The International Maritime Organization (IMO) agreed this week that the Baltic Sea special area for sewage discharges from passenger ships under Annex IV or the MARPOL Convention will take effect by latest 2021 for IMO registered passenger vessels. However, in certain cases of direct passages between St. Petersburg area and the North Sea there is a two-year extension to the deadline, until 2023.
The decision means that by 2021 all IMO registered passenger vessels sailing in the Baltic Sea, as the first region in the world, must discharge all sewage at port reception facilities (PRFs), or treat it with an on-board treatment plant certified to meet stringent special area requirements. For new ships built on or later than 2019, these requirements will apply earlier.
The significant outcome concludes the long HELCOM process aiming to limit sewage discharges in the Baltic Sea from passenger vessels, as the emissions have negative impact on the marine environment.
The decision was made during the meeting of the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) ending today in London.
The proposal to designate the Baltic Sea as a special area for sewage within MARPOL Annex IV was developed by the HELCOM Maritime Working Group, which is made up of maritime administrations of the Baltic Sea coastal countries and the EU. This proposal was submitted to IMO MEPC by the coastal countries in 2010, following a decision by the 2007 HELCOM Ministerial Meeting in Cracow, Poland.
Based on the submission the Baltic Sea was designated by IMO as a special area for sewage in 2011. However, according to the IMO decision this status would only take effect once the coastal countries informed IMO that adequate Port Reception Facilities are available in the region.
By the IMO meeting this week, all Baltic coastal countries had sent confirmation of adequate reception facilities in Baltic ports, as a result of substantial work on port reception facilities for sewage and their use in the Baltic Sea area by national administrations, ports and the passenger ship industry.
In order to document overall progress on sewage PRFs and their use in the region during recent years, an overview document was published by HELCOM in early 2015.
Upcoming events where related issues will be discussed include a joint session by HELCOM and CLIA on 18 May during the EU Maritime Day 2016 in Turku, Finland, and the International Workshop on Port Reception Facilities for the Baltic Sea as Special Area according to MARPOL Annex IV by Germany and BPO on 30 June – 1 July in Kiel, Germany.
The momentum to submit a proposal to designate the Baltic Sea as a sewage special area comes from the fact that standards for, and implementation of, sewage treatment on the shore in the Baltic Sea region have been tightened considerably during the last decades—with stringent requirements applied today not only to cities but also to smaller municipalities and in some countries even leisure boats. The Nitrogen and Phosphorus contained in ship sewage aggravate the eutrophication of the Baltic Sea.
From the perspective of the Baltic Sea, this week’s decision in London is a major milestone in more than 35 years of work to improve facilities and reduce sewage emissions from ships in the region.
Already at the first meeting of the Helsinki Commission, or HELCOM, in 1980, the coastal countries adopted regional Recommendations targeting sewage from passenger ships, concerning both port reception as well as on-board treatment plants.
The process has seen several rounds of negotiations and milestones as part of HELCOM Ministerial Meetings, such as the Baltic Sea PRF strategy of 1996 and the 2010 list of priority ports for sewage PRF upgrades. Very importantly, since Convention revision in 1992 these negotiations have included in addition to national administrations also the shipping industry as well as ports.