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New Zealand urged to sign MARPOL anti-pollution annex

30 March 2017 - By Craig Stephen

A senior lecturer at Victoria University’s School of Law says New Zealand’s failure to properly address air emissions by shipping is an “embarrassment” and should be a government priority.

In a paper published in the Australian & New Zealand Maritime Law Journal, "Shipping and Air Pollution: New Zealand's Failure to Ratify MARPOL Annex VI", Bevan Marten focuses on New Zealand’s lack of ratification of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) Annex VI relating specifically to air pollution, saying it raises important policy questions about international shipping regulation.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) says air pollution from ships causes a cumulative effect that contributes to the overall air quality problems encountered in many areas, and also affects the natural environment, such as tough acid rain.

The Annex was first adopted in 1997 and limits the main air pollutants contained in ships’ exhaust gas, including sulphur oxides (SOx) and nitrous oxides, and prohibits deliberate emissions of ozone depleting substances. It also regulates shipboard incineration, and the emissions of volatile organic compounds from tankers.

MoT says not a priority

The Ministry of Transport’s current advice is that ratification is not a priority because, it says:

  • New Zealand does not have significant air pollution problems arising from shipping largely due to weather conditions and the low volume of shipping;
  • New Zealand has no international shipping fleet operating under its flag, while virtually all foreign vessels visiting New Zealand will already be subject to the Annex VI standards; and
  • The adoption of Annex VI would increase costs for domestic shipping operators.

Dr Marten says New Zealand’s lack of interest in the Annex might seem justifiable – “the country’s air seems clean, and other countries are looking after international vessels.”

But he says evidence suggests that shipping is a contributor to air pollution in New Zealand, particularly in relation to SOx emissions.

“Where international regulatory considerations are concerned, there are both principled and practical reasons for New Zealand to ratify the Annex,” says Dr Marten.

“New Zealand cannot and should not rely solely on other port States to enforce the operational aspects of MARPOL, and the IMO-led regulatory framework is one that all responsible States should engage with."

Possible affect on economic interests

Dr Marten says New Zealand’s economic interests may also be affected by any market-based measures that are eventually introduced to combat greenhouse gas emissions from shipping, "and it would be prudent for the country to acquire a place at the table for future discussions on this theme". 

“While increased regulation will result in higher costs, there is reason to believe that New Zealand’s domestic industry would be willing to work towards reducing emissions, especially if the competitive balance with international shipping is improved,” he adds. 

“From an international maritime lawyer’s perspective, New Zealand’s current position on MARPOL Annex VI is an embarrassment.”

Karyn van Wijngarden of Nelson-based Oceanlaw says New Zealand should sign up to the Annex.

“In a perfect world, the ratification and implementation of Annex VI would have been something New Zealand was actively engaged in at an earlier date rather than allowing the current situation to occur.

Tension between environmental and commercial interests

“While air pollution and quality concerns are a global issue facing us all, it would be difficult to argue that New Zealand has a local pollution problem that would in any way approach the problems faced by large cities around the world, a factor that Dr Marten acknowledges. The underlying issue appears to be the tension between environmental interests and commercial viability of the maritime sector,” says Ms van Wijngarden.

As Dr Marten has acknowledged, adding another mechanism by which commercial operators are required to overhaul aspects of their vessel operations in order to comply, potentially at significant cost, is something that is unlikely to be well received by the maritime community.

“The reality is, in an island nation like New Zealand that has a significant maritime sector but tends to involve smaller vessels, the pressures on the operators’ financial margins are already significant and one has to consider whether, by adding another straw in the form of restricting emissions, that may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

“Undoubtedly New Zealand should, at some stage in the future, consider the ratification of Annex VI but the timeframe in which it is done is something that needs consideration in the context of the other pressures that New Zealand's maritime sector faces,” she says.

Last updated on the 30th March 2017