Bulk ports struggle to get to grips with hold wash water legislation. Dave and Iain MacIntyre report
Ports and ships are talking trash, with a number of pressures coming from MARPOL’s changed Annex V to sort out the marine garbage problem. But for bulk ports in particular, a lack of clarity in the new rules is creating uncertainty.
The intended goal is clear enough. The IMO recognises that garbage from ships can be just as deadly to marine life as oil or chemicals.
Greater awareness of the maritime environment prompted a marine pollution convention (MARPOL) to eliminate and reduce the amount of garbage being dumped into the sea from ships but despite the entry into force of Annex V in 1988, even recent surveys carried out in the US have revealed up to 10 tons of garbage are still being deposited per mile of coastline each year.
Updates and revisions over the last 25 years have led to the new more vigorous 2013 status quo and the changes which came into force on January 1 introduced much stricter controls whereby the discharge of all garbage into the sea is prohibited, unless expressly provided otherwise.
In particular, Annex V severely restricts discharges of garbage in "Special Areas" which have particular problems because of heavy maritime traffic or the land-locked nature of the sea concerned. These Special Areas are the Mediterranean, Baltic, Red and Black Sea Areas; the North Sea; the Gulfs and Antarctic areas; and the Wider Caribbean Region.
Ships must keep a Garbage Record Book for all disposal and incineration operations and a Garbage Management Plan. For ports, it will become common for ships to send garbage to shore-based facilities. Plus, the Annex also obliges governments to ensure the there are reception facilities at ports and terminals for the reception of garbage. But what does all this mean in practice for ports?
For general garbage or dry residues from hazardous cargoes there should not be a problem as such waste can be bagged, drummed or placed in skips for removal by waste contractors.
It is in handling hold wash water that the big issues start to emerge. Once the hold has been discharged, if the master needs to clean the hold for the next cargo he will have to retain that wash water on-board for discharge ashore.
It will then be necessary to land that water into a reception facility at the next port of arrival or remain alongside at the discharge port while washing (provided a reception facility is available).
However approved reception facilities for hazardous hold wash water and cleaning agents are sparse. Moreover, one of the 'loose ends' of the new rules is that no guidance is provided on what to do if no facilities are available.
Some groups are working behind the scenes to establish the appropriate response to the new rules – and in so doing, are unearthing some pitfalls.
Kevin Cribben from the Dry Bulk Terminals Group says the amount of cargo residue contained in hold wash water is minute, and in practical terms will rapidly settle out to the bottom of tanks.
“What we will actually be doing is transferring large quantities of water containing trace elements of a naturally-occurring but hazardous material into land-based facilities. There is a real possibility that this will create a much larger environmental problem than it will solve, but this risk does not appear to have been assessed by the regulators who drafted the rules.”
Mr Cribben says the requirement to accept water from ships is a completely new development for the vast majority of ports and terminals handling solid bulk cargoes, as they normally never have to receive waste water and do not have the infrastructure or systems in place to accept and dispose of it.
“As the water to be received is by definition contaminated with hazardous waste, and also likely to be seawater potentially containing invasive marine species, it becomes even more complicated to meet the requirements. In fact this requirement is so unprecedented that there appear to be no guidelines available from the responsible waste management and environmental protection agencies to which ports, terminals or downstream receivers can refer.
“As far as is known, no engineering or technical studies have been carried out as yet into how such facilities might be provided, or indeed there appears to have been no economic, safety or environmental impact assessments of any form carried out into these requirements.”
While ports and terminals were supposed have new receival facilities in place on January 1, the reality is that meeting the requirements is much more complex than the IMO envisaged, and ports have had not been given the time or the necessary guidance to enable them do so.
A survey by the International Council on Mining and Metals found that 82% of port facilities handling HME cargoes do not have suitable waste reception facilities in place.
Han Ozturk, group chairman of the DBTG, says ports do not have any choice regarding which garbage they accept and which they won’t. He sees significant cost, commercial and environmental implications which have yet to be clarified.
If it takes a ship’s crew one day to clean each hold, and the ship must clean while alongside, the ship and the port could be delayed for up to a week, leading to congestion in certain ports and a significant increase in ship turnaround.
“The typical bulk terminal would be put out of business if it had to allow ships remain alongside while this work is completed, so ships would probably have to go to anchor. The resultant costs, disruption to raw material supply chains, shipping and port operations will inevitabily be enormous,” says Mr Ozturk.
There has been no guidance from the shipping sector on the types, sizes and capacities required for shore manifolds, pipelines and holding tanks where ships have to pump wash water into shore reception facilities.
Other practical hurdles DBTG is encountering is that while the amendments to Annex V came into force on January 1, the process of classifying cargoes as to whether they are environmentally harmful will not be completed until the end of 2014.
Ports therefore do not know the type of facilities and infrastructure that will be required. There is also an impact on the licensing of port reception, storage and treatment facilities, and downstream disposal facilities by local authorities who must meet national regulations governing waste management at landfills.
So, where can ports turn for a clear guideline on what to expect under the new regulations?
Maritime lawyer Holman Fenwick Willan has paid particular attention to hold washing water removal. While it acknowledges that as this is very new legislation the law is yet to develop fully, it is clear there will be impacts throughout the industry.
The starting point is to consider the nature of the cargo carried; and the hold cleaning chemicals used. If the cargo or the chemicals are harmful to the marine environment, Annex V will apply.
Operators can consult the UN Globally Harmonized System for Classification and Labelling of Chemicals. The responsibility to declare whether or not the cargo is harmful lies with the shipper under the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes Code.
If it is, then HFW says the hold washing water has to be kept onboard and safely discharged into reception facilities ashore in all cases. If the cargo is not harmful, but the holds were cleaned with hold-cleaning chemicals which are harmful, then the same is likely to apply.
HFW says over time new clauses will be created to clarify between the parties where risk falls for non-compliance with Annex V.
In the meantime, for the practical steps that can be taken by ports to know that ship operators and shippers adhere to Annex V, HFW London-based partner David Morriss advises it is important that a proper protocol is put in place not only to ensure that the precise nature of the cargo is known, but also the hold cleaning chemicals used.
“Ideally this protocol would require the shippers not only to provide a declaration that the cargo is not harmful, but also provide supporting data such as Material Safety Data Sheet. Owners and operators will also have to maintain a proper and detailed record of this information (and the usage of any hold cleaning chemicals) onboard the vessel.
“While shippers are obliged to declare whether the cargo is harmful, in some circumstances it may be prudent for owners and operators to obtain expert verification of the cargo.”
With all this new information, how can ports approach the issue in a practical sense?
One port in the “Special Area” of the North Sea, Zeebrugge, says that all harmful environmental products or dangerous substances must be reported to the port by ships at least 24 hours prior to arrival.
“Cargo residues and Annex I oils are taken up in our ‘Afvalbeheersplan’ (Garbage Plan) … Cargo residues also go to private-collectors. The organisation and costs are then carried by the receiver of the goods.
“[Zeebrugge’s] bulk cargoes are, for the largest part, free from hazardous goods. Consequently, so far, there haven’t been any problems,” says the spokesperson.
However, Port Strategy understands ships are being delayed at other ports and berths held up while holds are washed, with wash water being road tankered 500km for disposal in one case.
Looking ahead, the International Association of Ports and Harbors is working to assist member ports with compliance to Annex V. Fer van de Laar, managing director of the IAPH, says that the majority of members are landlord ports where the port will not operate terminals of any kind. “This has as consequence that the receiving terminal plays a very important role in enabling the ship to be compliant.”
He adds: “One of the problems encountered right now is that there is a lack of information on the impact of dry bulk cargoes on the marine environment and the observation that the introduction is somewhat hasty is correct.
“I haven’t heard yet of ports getting into problems because of this particular lack of information but I think it is somewhat early in the day. We hope that this issue will be solved soonest.
“The way forward is rather straightforward — as soon as information is available on how dry bulk cargoes affect the marine environment together with information how cargo hold washings have to be dealt with based on these properties, then together with the terminals that operate in our ports we can draw up the plans to deal with this new challenge.”
Meanwhile, if all of the practical and legal implications for ports of the Annex V changes have not been foreseen, more changes may be required.
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