The 68th session of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) was held in London last week.

Toby Stone, AMSA General Manager of Marine Environment, led Australia’s delegation and there were a number of important outcomes for Australia.

Extension of the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) approved

Australia’s proposal to extend the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait PSSA into the south west Coral Sea has been approved by the MEPC.

This extension will see an additional 565,000 square kilometres of the Coral Sea protected, more than doubling the size of the existing area.

Designation as a PSSA helps to protect seas where significant ecological, socio-economic, cultural or scientific attributes may be vulnerable to damage by international shipping.

The Great Barrier Reef was declared the world’s first PSSA in 1990, and in 2005 this area was extended to include the Torres Strait.

Three Associated Protective Measures will support the new PSSA extension including a new Area to be Avoided and two supporting two-way routes. These measures will enhance ship safety and the protection of the marine environment by keeping traffic away from the many reefs, cays, islets, sandbars and shoal patches within the area.

Polar Code adopted

The MEPC has adopted the environment–related provisions of the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code) and the associated amendments to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL).

As this work completes the process required to make the code mandatory under both the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and MARPOL treaties, the Polar Code will come into force from 1 January 2017.

The Polar Code covers the full range of design, construction, equipment, operational, training, search and rescue and environmental protection matters relevant to ships operating in polar waters.

It is designed to address the increased interest and traffic in these areas, taking into account the operational, environmental and search and rescue challenges unique to Polar regions.

The environmental measures adopted by MEPC 68 cover the prevention of pollution from ships of oil, noxious liquid substances, sewage and garbage.

As a country with a significant stake in the Antarctic as well as search and rescue responsibility for a large area of the Southern Ocean, Australia has been actively involved in developing the Polar Code from the beginning.

Regional Reception Facilities Plan (RRFP) for the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Pacific Region.

The MEPC considered a draft Regional Reception Facilities Plan (RRFP) for the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Pacific Region.

This plan was submitted by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and co-sponsored by Australia, New Zealand and a number of Pacific island countries.

For many Pacific island countries and territories, particularly those comprising small atolls, the provision of adequate waste reception facilities can be challenging, due to unique circumstances such as a shortage of land for disposal sites or limited infrastructure.

SPREP has therefore coordinated efforts to develop an RRFP, including the analysis of shipping spatial data and the undertaking of a series of five gap analyses to assess the availability and adequacy of ships' waste reception facilities.

The RRFP will allow SIDS to satisfy their waste reception facility obligations under MARPOL through regional arrangements by identifying ports that could serve as Regional Waste Reception Centres.

AMSA provided technical assistance to SPREP during the development of this plan, and in partnership with SPREP, conducted gap analyses of reception facilities in five ports across the region, which formed the basis of this plan.

The RRFP will now be finalised and is expected to take effect from May 2016.

Source: AMSA