The shipping industry serves an important role in the global economy. Approximately 90% of the world’s trade goods are transported via sea-faring vessels. As concerns over climate change and ocean pollution become increasingly prevalent on the international stage, more talk surrounds steps that need to be taken to improve the industry’s environmental footprint. International environmental law reflects the incremental movements taken to address the issues.
Maritime law is a complex array of legislation governing the specialized conditions within the marine business. You can learn about maritime law here. International maritime environmental law is no less complex, but there are efforts at improving emissions and reducing pollution from ocean vessels. Here are four important issues in international maritime environmental law.
Ships produce significant levels of air pollution. Sulfur dioxide is one of the most egregious, along with nitrogen oxide and particulate matter. These pollutants are detrimental to human and ecosystem health. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) implementedaimed at reducing sulfur emissions through capping sulfur levels in fuel to 0.5% mass-by-mass, which took effect January 01, 2020. Shipping companies are switching to alternative fuels or retrofitting their vessels with sulfur scrubbers to comply with the law.
In an effort to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the IMO plans to tackle carbon emissions standards following the sulfur law enactment. The maritime industry contributes approximately 2-3% of the global CO2. Afound that ships produced 938 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2012. The shipping industry anticipates that standards will be set for carbon emissions in the near future. These expectations are leading to reluctance from companies to purchase ships until they have a better understanding of the potential impacts of new regulations.
Seafaring vessels use ballast water as a stabilizing mechanism. Ballast water is collected from the ocean itself, thus it contains marine plant and animal life, as well as microorganisms and microbes. When it is released, it transfers the content from its origins to a new location, resulting in an alarming spread of invasive species and causing serious harm to ecosystems worldwide. The Ballast Water and Sediments Convention set standards for management. As of 2017, all ships are required to have an approved ballast water management plan to help control the spread of invasive species.
Cargo Container Fires
A fire from a cargo container can release dangerous toxins into the air and, potentially, the ocean, especially if the fire occurs on a ship carrying hazardous materials. Concern is growing for the increase in incidents. Vessels carrying hazardous and non-hazardous materials fail at a rate of 55%, and, once every two months, there is a ship fire out on the water. Efforts are being made to enforce safety and vessel inspections, with fines leveled and the potential for cargo seizure for failure to adhere to safety requirements.
Concerns for the ecosystem and human health and about climate change are growing. As a result, international governance of maritime operations is beginning to focus on addressing prominent pollution and safety issues, such as vessel emissions, discharge and fires. The goal is to improve the environmental footprint of the world’s most valuable goods transport industry.