February 3, 2020

Key IMO Meeting on Pollution Prevention and Response Set for Feb. 17-21 in London

Holland & Knight Alert
Gerald A. Morrissey III | J. Michael Cavanaugh | Michael J. Frevola | F. Robert Denig


  • The seventh session of the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR7) will be held in London on Feb. 17-21, 2020, with a number of the agenda items likely to impact IMO 2020 regulations and enforcements.
  • Among the notable agenda items to be discussed are the development of guidelines for onboard sampling of fuel oil not in use by a vessel, a review of the 2015 Guidelines for Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems (EGCS), and an evaluation and "harmonization" of rules and guidance on the discharge of liquid effluents from EGCS into waters.

At a recent U.S. Department of State-arranged meeting at the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Coast Guard and other government agency personnel and stakeholders met in preparation for the seventh session of the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR7), to be held at IMO Headquarters in London on Feb. 17-21, 2020. A number of agenda items scheduled to be discussed at the PPR7 meeting will likely impact IMO 2020 regulations and enforcement. This Holland & Knight alert briefly addresses below a few of the more notable agenda items that will be discussed.

Development of Guidelines for Onboard Sampling of Fuel Oil Not in Use by the Vessel

IMO members will seek to develop guidelines at the PPR7 meeting addressing situations where a vessel enters an emission control area (ECA) with non-compliant high-sulfur fuel onboard but not in use by the vessel. As of March 1, 2020, entering an ECA with non-compliant high-sulfur fuel, even though not in use, is a violation of current IMO 2020 regulations. The new guidelines are envisioned to address sampling and testing of non-compliant fuel onboard after the vessel is in an ECA, and further discussions are expected to take place concerning port state enforcement in these situations.

With respect to enforcement in the United States, the U.S. Coast Guard is currently requiring vessels to report the presence of non-compliant fuel onboard to the cognizant captain of the port prior to the vessel entering the ECA. Such reporting requirement is similar to the former Fuel Oil Non-Availability Report (FONAR) program administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but there currently are no reporting websites in operation or specific U.S. Coast Guard forms in use. In each instance, the captain of the port must be contacted directly. It remains unclear, however, exactly how the U.S. Coast Guard will deal with vessels that report entering the ECA with non-compliant fuel oil onboard but not in use.

Review of the 2015 Guidelines for Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems

The IMO's basic rules concerning Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems (EGCS, or "scrubbers") are based off the 2015 Guidelines. The topic is marked for discussion at the PPR7 meeting, and there have been some suggestions for developing different arrangements and standards than those established in the Resolution MEPC.259(68) table of approved methods for scrubber test sample analysis and sample preparation. The discussions are expected to include possible amendments to the 2015 Guidelines concerning the installation and initial surveys of scrubber systems, scrubber exhaust gas monitoring systems and general clarifications. Although no major policy changes with respect to the use of EGCS are expected, the PPR7 discussions could lead to new guidelines concerning EGCS monitoring systems.

Evaluation and "Harmonization" of Rules and Guidance on the Discharge of Liquid Effluents from EGCS into Waters, Including Conditions and Areas

Although open-loop scrubbers may comply with the 2015 Guidelines, those guidelines provided only four limits on wash water discharge (pH, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), turbidity and nitrates). Some IMO members have expressed concern that several more factors must be taken into account when assessing the impact of wash water discharge from scrubbers operating in ports and coastal areas (including concerns related to the accumulation of pollutants in sediments and biota). It is suggested that open-loop systems currently in use and compliant with the 2015 Guidelines potentially may have harmful impacts in certain coastal areas. A number of coastal states have implemented port state regulations prohibiting the use of open-loop scrubbers in certain coastal waterways. For example, Norway, Malaysia, Singapore and China have announced a ban of open-loop scrubbers in certain coastal areas, and Egypt has banned the use of open-loop scrubbers in Egyptian waters, including the Suez Canal. (See Holland & Knight's previous alert, "Recent Guidance by Suez Canal Authority Highlights Complexities of IMO 2020 Compliance," Jan. 30, 2020.)

At the upcoming PPR7 meeting, IMO members will discuss the "harmonization" of various guidelines and regulations for local and regional coastal areas concerning liquid effluents from open-loop scrubbers. It appears doubtful, however, that any new guidelines or regulations on this issue will come out of PPR7. It is more likely that the sub-committee will seek input from further studies concerning the long-term and accumulative effects of liquid effluents before deciding on any definitive guidelines. With that said, ship owners and operators currently using or planning to implement open-loop scrubbers systems should take interest in the PPR7 meeting and keep a watchful eye as the sub-committee undertakes to harmonize various coastal area regulations and guidelines.

We Can Help

Holland & Knight's Maritime Team will continue to monitor the sub-committee's work as new IMO 2020 guidelines and regulations are developed, and our attorneys are prepared to assist our clients in all aspects concerning the enforcement and development of IMO 2020.  

Information contained in this alert is for the general education and knowledge of our readers. It is not designed to be, and should not be used as, the sole source of information when analyzing and resolving a legal problem. Moreover, the laws of each jurisdiction are different and are constantly changing. If you have specific questions regarding a particular fact situation, we urge you to consult competent legal counsel.

Related Insights