Rules of the Road: New rule requires inventory of hazardous materials onboard

Nov 19, 2020 by Capt. Jake DesVergers

With the continued push for more environmentally friendly approaches across all industries, let’s revisit and update an existing topic: ship recycling. This is not the simple action of separating the yacht’s trash into multiple bins. It is the actual process of reclaiming the construction materials of a vessel.

The Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships was adopted in May 2009. It is aimed at ensuring that ships (including yachts), when being recycled after reaching the end of their operational lives, do not pose any unnecessary risk to human health and safety or to the environment.

The Convention addresses all major issues surrounding ship recycling, including the fact that ships sold for scrap may contain environmentally hazardous substances such as asbestos, heavy metals, hydrocarbons, and ozone-depleting substances. It also addresses concerns raised about the working and environmental conditions at many of the world’s ship recycling locations.

However, as this international Convention was adopted in 2009, it remains without full ratification. When can we expect this rule to take effect? The Convention has been open for accession by any Member State. It will enter into force 24 months after the date on which 15 Member States — representing 40 percent of the world’s merchant shipping by gross tonnage —  have either (a) signed it without reservation as to ratification, acceptance, or approval; or (b) have deposited instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval, or accession with the IMO Secretary General. 

To date, the Convention has been signed, subject to ratification or acceptance, by Belgium, Congo, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Turkey.

Similar to the Hong Kong convention, the European Union’s Ship Recycling Regulation (EUSRR) entered into force during December 2018 with a stated deadline of  Dec. 31,2020. What this means is that all ships (and yachts) of 500GT and above, regardless of the flag they are flying, will be required to carry an Inventory of Hazardous Materials (IHM). Accompanying the IHM, there must be a Statement of Compliance for the vessel’s flag state.

The IHM must be on board when the vessel is calling a port or anchorage of a country that is a member of the European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA). Port state control officers will verify the Statement of Compliance and the quality of the IHM. In cases of non-compliance, ships and yachts may be warned, detained, dismissed or excluded from the ports or offshore terminals under the jurisdiction of a member state.

The IHM will address the inventory of three main areas:

  • 1. Hazardous material contained in the vessel’s structure and equipment;
  • 2. Operationally generated wastes; and
  • 3. Stores.

The development procedure for the IHM differs depending on whether the vessel is a new or an existing one. For newly constructed vessels, the shipbuilder is responsible for complying with the relevant international requirements. In this respect, the conformity of the IHM at the design and construction stage should be ascertained by reference to the various suppliers’ declarations of conformity and the related material declarations that were collected during the build process.

For existing vessels, an assessment must be conducted by an approved technician. As much information as possible must be collected, including drawings, approval certificates, and material declarations. A visual/sampling check plan should also be established.

Throughout the life cycle of the ship or yacht, the IHM must be properly maintained and updated. It shall reflect all new installations containing any hazardous materials.

Experience has shown that the entire process may take three months or longer. Of course, this depends on the size and construction of the ship. With the current worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, an allowance has been made for an initial desktop review to be performed remotely. This is followed up by an onboard verification at a later date, subject to the flag administration’s approval. However, the possibility of having IHM service providers and surveyors on board can be limited due to related travel restrictions and short notice of lock-down measures.

This type of “cradle-to-grave” regulatory approach is not new. It has been successfully used by the US EPA since 1976 for a multitude of hazardous materials ranging from medical waste to nuclear fuel. However, it is unique to the international maritime industry. Proper implementation of the Convention and EUSRR by those of us working in the industry is critical. We must ensure that its true purpose is met and not made into just another paperwork exercise.

Capt. Jake DesVergers serves as chief surveyor for International Yacht Bureau (IYB), a recognized organization that provides flag-state inspection services to private and commercial yachts on behalf of several flag-state administrations. A deck officer graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, he previously sailed as master on merchant ships, acted as Designated Person for a shipping company, and served as regional manager for an international classification society. Contact him at 954-596-2728 or Comments on this column are welcome below.