Preventing air pollution from ships

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ATTY. BRENDA V. PIMENTEL

I am beginning to get an overdose of the news, commentaries and discourses on the environmental destruction caused by mining, which has obliterated the verdant surface of our archipelago. Add to this the presence of fish pens and cages that gradually changed the freshness of the waters of Laguna Bay and turning it into a putrid and muddy stream. The jeepney, the king of the road, attracted attention of late too, for the emission of black, carbon dioxide-filled smoke.

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Measures to address the sources of the pollutants have resulted in the order issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to close some twenty-three mining companies and the dismantling of fish pens in Laguna de Bay. The Department of Transportation (DOTr) through the Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) on the other hand, issued a policy declaring the phase-out of old jeepneys, citing air pollution as one of the reasons.

It is observed though that stamping out sources of air pollution focuses on land-based stationary and mobile structures such as manufacturing plants and transport units, e.g. cars, buses and jeepneys. The Clean Air Act of 1999 specifically mentions only those transport units operating in public streets and highways.

What happens to the emissions of ships, which undoubtedly contribute to the damage to the atmosphere? Ships’ emissions contain harmful air pollutants, including sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, which studies show are associated with a broad array of adverse impacts that harm human health and the environment.

Capt. Alfredo Vidal, Deputy Administrator for Operations of the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) noted the absence of regulations that would cover emissions of ships and highlighted the agency’s efforts to push for the ratification of Annex VI of the International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973/1978 (MARPOL). The convention, which initially covered discharges of ship-generated pollutants into the marine environment (under Annexes I to V), was subsequently amended by the Protocol of 1997 adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to include prevention of air pollution from ships (Annex VI). The Philippines has ratified Annexes I to V.

House Bill No. 49 and House Bill No. 1843 on the Prevention of Pollution from Ships were filed in the 17th Congress. The proposed bills aim to transpose the MARPOL provisions into the Philippine maritime legal regime, such step being considered necessary to ensure effective implementation of the said convention on the prevention of marine and air pollution from ships, and at the same fulfill the country’s commitment as Party to MARPOL. In anticipation of the country’s ratification of Annex VI, the draft bills stipulate that harmful substances from ship emissions must be controlled.

DA Vidal further mentioned the efforts of MARINA to accelerate the adoption of regulations that deal with the prevention of air pollution from ships pending the enactment of an enabling law. He confirmed that development of a framework of strategy for the implementation of MARPOL Annex VI is in progress as part of the ongoing GEF-UNDP-IMO-sponsored global Project on “Transforming the Global Maritime Transport Industry towards a Low Carbon Future through Improved Efficiency” (GloMEEP). The Project deals with the mitigation, control and prevention of emissions from ships with particular focus on fuel efficiency. The Philippines is one of ten countries participating in the GloMEEP Project and is keen on optimizing the expected benefits of implementing Annex VI.

MARPOL was ratified by the Philippines in 2000; to date, no enabling law has been passed to implement the convention. Protection of the marine environment from ship-generated waste is based on regulations that are by no means complete, and are most often confusing and unclear. There is no regulation governing ship emissions. Bills to implement MARPOL has been filed and re-filed in Congress under four Presidents since the convention was ratified. We have not given up on a MARPOL law being enacted.

This time, we might succeed.

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