Global Ban on Toxic Ship Paint Agreed

LONDON, United Kingdom, October 9, 2001 (ENS) - Ship paint containing the harmful compounds known as organotins will be restricted as of January 1, 2003 and banned five years later, members of the world's primary maritime organization have agreed.

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Cargo ship tied up at a UK dock. Anti-fouling paints are applied below the water line. (Photo courtesy Freefoto.com)
Anti-fouling paints are painted on the bottoms of ships to prevent sea life such as algae and molluscs from adhering to the hulls where they slow down the vessels and increase fuel consumption. These compounds leach into the sea water, killing marine life attached to the ship. Studies have shown that these compounds persist in the water, killing sea life, harming the environment and possibly entering the food chain.

After keen debate, representatives of the 159 Member States of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted the new convention Friday ending a five day diplomatic conference at IMO headquarters in London. The IMO is the United Nations specialized agency responsible for the safety of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships.

The newly agreed International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems on Ships calls for a global prohibition on the application of organotin compounds which act as biocides in anti-fouling systems on ships by January 1, 2003, and a complete prohibition by January 1, 2008.

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IMO Secretary-General William O'Neil (Photo courtesy IMO)
IMO Secretary-General William O'Neil said the adoption of the new convention marks the successful outcome of a task set by Agenda 21, the plan of environmental action agreed by governments at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Chapter 17 called on countries to take measures to reduce pollution caused by organotins compounds used in anti-fouling systems.

The conference had seen intense debate, O'Neill acknowledged. But he said, "The IMO spirit of goodwill, understanding and compromise on the part of the many delegates and observers from all over the world made it possible to reach consensus on important issues, such as entry into force criteria."

"Our efforts will now turn to ensuring the convention is brought into force as soon as possible," O'Neil said, and asked Parties to do their utmost to prepare for implementing the convention "as a matter of urgency."

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Car and truck carrier (Photo courtesy Freefoto.com)
The agreement will enter into force 12 months after 25 countries representing 25 percent of the world's merchant shipping tonnage have ratified it.

Greenpeace, an observer at the IMO conference, says that years of work by its campaigners and those of other environmental groups led to the agreement.

"It's taken years of hard discussions to arrive at this commitment, but today's treaty is a positive step in the right direction, said Greenpeace toxics campaigner, Martin Besieux, at the IMO meeting. "It sends a clear signal to the shipping, paint and chemical industries that their days of abusing the marine environment are finally over and they must stop producing and using toxic paints."

Under the terms of the new convention, Parties are required to prohibit and/or restrict the use of harmful anti-fouling systems on ships flying their flag, as well as ships not entitled to fly their flag but which operate under their authority and all ships that enter a port, shipyard or offshore terminal of a Party.

The agreement prohibits the use of organotins in anti-fouling paints used on ships and will establish a mechanism to prevent the potential future use of other harmful substances in anti-fouling systems. Anti-fouling systems to be banned or controlled will be listed in an annex to the convention, which will be updated as necessary.

Ships of 400 gross tonnage and above engaged in international voyages will have to undergo an initial survey before the ship is put into service or before an International Anti-fouling System Certificate is issued for the first time. Further surveys must be undertaken when the anti-fouling systems are changed or replaced.

Ships of 24 meters (78 feet) or more in length but less than 400 gross tonnage engaged in international voyages will have to carry a Declaration on Anti-fouling Systems signed by the owner or authorized agent. The declaration will have to be accompanied by documentation such as a paint receipt or contractor invoice.

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Oil tankers at Fawley, UK (Photo courtesy Freefoto.com)
The agreement urges the relevant industries to refrain from marketing, sale and application of the substances controlled by the Convention.

One of the most effective anti-fouling paints, developed in the 1960s, contains the organotin tributylin (TBT), which has been proven to cause deformations in oysters and sex changes in whelks.

TBT has been found to impair the immune systems of some organisms. Once in the marine environment, TBT can travel far from the source of contamination and has been found in the tissues of cetaceans, seals, sea otters and water birds around the world.

"Today's decision is a victory for the marine environment that is being severely damaged by toxic ship paints," said Besieux. "It illustrates a growing awareness that there's no place for hazardous products in today's world."

By January 1, 2003, all ships shall not apply or re-apply organotin compounds which act as biocides in anti-fouling systems.

By January 1, 2008, ships either shall not bear such compounds on their hulls or external parts or surfaces; or shall bear a coating that forms a barrier to such compounds leaching from the underlying non-compliant anti-fouling systems.