Regulatory Update: IMO Remains Focused on Its Mission

9 February 2021

Nicholas Makar, Senior Vice President, Maritime Administration / Regulatory Affairs, International Registries, Inc.

The COVID-19 crisis complicated the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) ability to work in person, but international cooperation and collaboration have come together remotely to support IMO in its mission in light of COVID obstacles.

Early in the pandemic, IMO Secretariat, Member States, and observer organizations came together to develop protocols and procedures for IMO meetings so that important work on upcoming regulatory changes could continue. In addition to the challenges the wider industry faced in moving virtual, IMO had to address the limitations virtual meetings and temporary meeting modalities place on linguistic interpretations, critical multi-lateral negotiations, and technical consultations. The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) delegation consulted and collaborated on these policies and procedures so that IMO meetings and working groups could comply with existing governance, as well as equitably ensure access and opportunity to delegations across the world.

The most pressing issue remains the crew change crisis. Early in the pandemic, the RMI urged countries to recognize seafarers as key workers. As of 25 January 2021, 52 member states have designated seafarers as key workers. This designation is critical in not only facilitating crew change, but also in prioritizing seafarers and port workers for vaccination.  IMO remains focused on assisting with crew change and repatriation efforts and at an extraordinary session of the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) held in September 2020, the committee adopted resolution MSC.473(ES.2) on recommended action to facilitate safe crew changes, travel, and medical care access during the COVID-19 pandemic. The resolution urges the designation of a national focal point to coordinate on crew change and repatriation of seafarers at a national level.

COVID-19 has not stopped the work of IMO with respect to its IMO Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Initial Strategy. The 75th Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) meeting in November 2020, adopted and approved items critical to maintaining the timelines with the Initial Strategy, including the Fourth IMO GHG Study.

Although Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) regulations have been in force since 2013, the Initial GHG Strategy calls for strengthening of EEDI requirements for new ships. Revisions to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution by Ships (MARPOL) Annex VI adopted at MEPC 75, advance the starting year for EEDI Phase 3 requirements from 2025 to 2022 for gas carriers, liquid natural gas (LNG) carriers, containerships, general cargo ships, and cruise passenger ships having non-conventional propulsion. The required EEDI reduction rates for containerships were also revised according to a step-wise scale based on dead weight tons. The existing EEDI Phase 3 starting year and reduction rates are otherwise retained for all other applicable ship types and sizes. Additionally, IMO Member States and organizations are working to consider possible introduction of further phases with associated time periods and reduction rates.

MEPC 75 also approved a set of draft amendments to MARPOL Annex VI that will institute agreed short-term measures and establish a new Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI) and operational carbon intensity reduction requirements based on a new Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII). These amendments need to be adopted at the next session of the MEPC, scheduled for June 2021, to enter into force before 2023 so as to remain consistent with the timelines of the Initial GHG Strategy.

Work on candidate mid- and long-term measures has also progressed, with a focus on the effective uptake of alternative low-carbon and zero-carbon fuels, including the development of life cycle GHG/carbon intensity guidelines. Progress in this area will be critical to meet the Initial GHG Strategy levels of ambition to reduce the total annual GHG emission from international shipping by at least 50% by 2050, and the eventual decarbonization of the sector this century.

Notably, MEPC 75 also saw the adoption of amendments to the Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention regarding the testing of BWM systems and approval of amendments to MARPOL Annex I prohibiting the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic.

While IMO meetings and sessions remain virtual, delegations continue to drive progress with developing measures to strengthen the position of the industry for the future and fulfill the mission of IMO.