International Maritime Organisation

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is the United Nations agency that sets global standards for the safety, security and environmental performance of international shipping. It has near universal state membership as well as strong non-government organization and industry representation.

New Zealand is a signatory to a number of binding agreements under the IMO. An example of one of these is the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, also known as MARPOL.

IMO conventions and treaties and what they mean for ships

There are a large number of international conventions and treaties under the IMO which constitute agreements between countries and set out frameworks and standards for global shipping.

These agreements contain a ‘no more favourable treatment’ requirement which means that countries that sign up to these, (also known as Party states) must apply the obligations under that agreement (eg, MARPOL) to its own ships, and all other foreign ships in waters under their jurisdiction.

This applies regardless of whether the foreign-flagged ships have ratified the relevant convention. The benefit of this is that generally speaking it binds all ships to the same standards.

This means that:

  • any New Zealand ship visiting the ports or transiting the internal waters of another country must be compliant with any agreement that country has signed up to, even if we are not yet Party to that particular agreement
  • similarly, we can expect any visiting ship in our waters to be compliant with any agreements that New Zealand is Party to – even if that ship’s country is not a Party to the agreement we have signed.

New Zealand and MARPOL

MARPOL is one of the most important IMO conventions for regulating marine pollution from shipping. This convention includes six annexes which regulate various different types of pollution.

Currently, New Zealand has ratified the annexes that regulate pollution from oil (Annex I), chemicals (Annex II), harmful substances (Annex III), and garbage (Annex V).

New Zealand agencies with responsibilities for ensuring we meet our MARPOL obligations

A number of agencies have responsibilities for ensuring that domestic legislation gives effect to our obligations under MARPOL and its annexes.

The Ministry for the Environment, Ministry of Transport, Maritime NZ, and Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) collectively administer and implement relevant acts and rules.

These include the following Acts on the New Zealand Legislation website.

New Zealand and signing up to Annex VI

New Zealand has announced its intention to accede (sign up) to MARPOL Annex VI. The process is being led by the Ministry of Transport.

Find more information on MARPOL Annex VI: treaty to reduce air pollution in ports and harbours [Ministry of Transport website]

Annex VI regulates all emissions to the atmosphere from ships, and sets limits on certain pollutants such as sulphur and nitrogen oxides. Acceding to Annex VI will have emissions-control benefits as well as enabling New Zealand to more closely monitor and enforce compliance by ships. In the longer term, Annex VI will be a mechanism through which the IMO can radically reduce global CO2 emissions from shipping. This reduction will align the shipping industry with 2015 Paris Agreement climate change goals.

Annex VI and scrubber systems

As of 1 January 2020, Annex VI reduced the allowable sulphur content in marine fuel from 3.5 percent to 0.5 percent. This will yield significant global health and environmental benefits, especially in coastal areas and port cities, by reducing the amount of sulphur emissions to air when fuel is burnt.

Ships can meet the sulphur fuel limit by using either compliant (low-sulphur) fuel, or through the use of an equivalent technology that achieves at least the same reductions in sulphur emissions to air, such as an exhaust gas cleaning system (scrubber).

Scrubbers systems use either seawater or modified freshwater to remove gases and other combustion products from the ship’s exhaust. Scrubbers can discharge a diluted washwater (‘open loop’ systems) or in some cases a more concentrated ‘bleed off’ (‘closed loop’ systems).  Both are discharged to the marine environment. Some ships carry hybrid scrubber systems which can operate in both open and closed loop mode. These discharges contain a number of contaminants such as heavy metals. The amount of discharge and the concentration of contaminants will vary.

There are some concerns around the potential risks these contaminants pose to the marine environment. To better understand the risks of scrubber use in New Zealand waters, the Ministry for the Environment engaged the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric research (NIWA) to carry out a preliminary risk assessment on scrubber discharges. This research also considered te ao Māori perspectives reflected in publicly available Iwi Environmental Management Plans for key regions that are visited by large ships.

Marine Risk Assessment: discharges from exhaust gas cleaning systems (scrubbers)

Read the reports and findings of the preliminary risk assessment of scrubber discharges.

The Ministry will continue to monitor the use of scrubbers in New Zealand waters. This includes gathering information on the nature and extent of scrubber use.  We would like to hear further from interested groups as New Zealand signs up to Annex VI.

Further evidence, including from work undertaken by the international community, may result in the consideration of more stringent management controls once Annex VI has been implemented.

Read our guidance page for ship operators and port/regional authorities.

Expectations for foreign flagged ships entering NZ waters, whom are Party to Annex VI

Although New Zealand has not yet signed up to Annex VI, our expectation is that ships will be operating in accordance with their own Party state’s obligations under this agreement, providing this is consistent with relevant NZ domestic law. Once New Zealand has ratified and fully implemented Annex VI, we will be monitoring and enforcing these obligations for all ships in our waters.

Roles of respective New Zealand agencies in regards to Annex VI accession, and assessment of scrubber discharges

The Ministry of Transport and Maritime NZ are leading the work on accession to Annex VI, including the development of new Marine Protection Rules under the Maritime Transport Act. Public consultation on these Rules will open in July 2021. Once New Zealand has acceded to Annex VI, Maritime NZ will be the primary agency for compliance and enforcement.

The Ministry for the Environment is supporting the Ministry of Transport and Maritime NZ on this work to accede to Annex VI. Our role in managing scrubbers use is limited to the consideration of discharges to sea and transfer of closed loop scrubber waste to land. In territorial waters, discharges are controlled and managed by regional and port authorities under the Resource Management Act.