For a number years, large quantities of waxy yellow or white clumps have been washing up on beaches all along the North Sea and Baltic Sea coast. These clumps are solidified paraffin wax. Paraffin stranding incidents remain an ongoing problem for coastal communities. Paraffin pollution can be harmful to both humans and sea-life which is why KIMO has been lobbying hard to change the laws governing the discharge of paraffin at sea – a legislative issue covered by the MARPOL Convention.
The MARPOL Convention was developed by the International Maritime Organization(IMO) in order to minimise pollution of the ocean by ships. It is one of the most important international conventions dealing with the protection of the marine environment. The convention aims to eliminate pollution from oil and other harmful substances and to minimize accidental spillages of harmful substances. Annex II of the MARPOL convention deals with pollution from noxious liquid substances (this includes paraffin). The substances are categorized according to their noxiousness and consequent potential to cause harm. Each category is defined by its physical and chemical properties and the legislation allows some of these to be discharged at sea.
KIMO’s report on the extent of paraffin pollution in KIMO’s member municipalities was submitted to the OSPAR EIHA meeting in 2017. KIMO’s information was also presented to the IMO Evaluation of Safety and Pollution Hazards (ESPH) working group which has proposed specific amendments to strengthen the discharge requirements for tank washings containing paraffin and other high viscosity persistent floating products. KIMO is proposing that the thresholds are raised (i.e. that the requirements for discharge are strengthened) so that it would no longer be legally permissible to discharge paraffin at sea.
KIMO has been lobbying at national level to ensure that these amendments are adopted. In April 2018, we were successful in securing an agreement from the OSPAR EIHA Committee to take a common position at the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) meeting to support the adoption of the draft amendments. This is a rare achievement and means that the 15 countries that cooperate through OSPAR will support the adoption of these amendments when this comes before IMO’s MEPC meeting in October 2018.
If the amendments are approved at the next MEPC meeting in October, then this means that paraffin could no longer be legally discharged but instead the shipping tankers transporting paraffin would have to wash out their tanks and discharge the washing water in port rather than at sea. So it is these tank washings that will be more rigorously regulated if the amendments are agreed at MEPC.
The lobbying process may seem long and convoluted but rest assured that we are doing everything we can to ensure that these amendments are passed and paraffin pollution is stopped. Let’s hope that municipalities, beachgoers and marine animals can all breathe a sigh of relief in October.