While we await the full outcome of the meeting of European Fisheries Ministers (details remain patchy at the moment) attention turns to the International Maritime Organisation's environmental subcommittee.  Today, we have stepped up efforts to prevent pollution incidents such as the discharge of polyisobutylene which has had such a devastating effect on seabirds in the English Channel.

This morning, the following statement will be read out from the Clean Shipping Coalition... 

Mr Chairman, thank you very much for the opportunity to address the meeting this morning.

This year, over 4,000 seabirds have been recorded washed up dead or dying along the south coast of England, covered in the substance polyisobutylene, alternatively polyisobutene or PIB. This substance, when discharged into the sea, coalesces into a glue-like consistency, coating birds’ wings and bodies and preventing them from feeding or flying.

The impact on populations at sea is likely to have been far higher, possibly affecting up to 40,000 birds. The longer term impacts of releasing PIB on other parts of the marine ecosystem are currently not well studied or understood.

The cause of this tragedy is still being investigated. However, the exact origin of previous PIB incidents has rarely been found and to our knowledge there have been no successful prosecutions against breaches of the MARPOL Convention in relation to PIB.

Mr Chairman, Under Annex II of the MARPOL Convention, the various forms of PIB are classified as Category Y, where although it is deemed to be a hazard that justifies a limitation on its release, it remains legal for a ship to discharge PIB under certain conditions. 

It is our understanding, however, that the testing of these substances to determine Annex II classification does not take place in realistic marine conditions, and in PIB’s case does not sufficiently consider the full range of potential impacts of PIB upon marine ecosystems when mixed with seawater, beyond whether the substance floats or sinks.

We also simply do not know how much PIB is released into the marine environment as part of routine tank-washing operations, and the cumulative impacts of these chronic releases.

As such, Mr Chairman, it is our opinion that the risks of releasing PIB into the marine environment in any quantity are underestimated, both alone and with potentially corrosive cleaning agents, and that an urgent review is needed of PIB’s classification status under MARPOL Annex II, for presentation at a future meeting of MEPC. We are also concerned that when legal discharges of a harmful substance are allowed it becomes more difficult to stop illegal discharges, as ships have a legitimate reason for proceeding to sea with the waste on board.

This week, leading UK wildlife charities also signed a joint statement with the UK Chamber of Shipping, supported by the UK ports and maritime business sectors, strongly supporting such a review. There are copies of this statement on the table outside this meeting room and here at the CSC desk .

We would like to urge IMO Member States to respond swiftly to this serious issue and take a proactive approach to such a review.

PIB has no proper place in our precious oceans and seas, and we must ensure that the classification of PIB under MARPOL fully reflects its impacts on marine life.

Thank you very much for your attention.