WWF succeeds in banning dumping at sea

  • 2010-10-06
  • From wire reports

TALLINN - At a last minute session, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) agreed on Oct. 1 to ban the discharge of sewage from passenger ships and ferries into the Baltic Sea, reports news agency LETA. The decision comes after a three year World Wildlife Fund (WWF) campaign to stop the dumping of waste water in the Baltic Sea, the environmental group WWF reports.

WWF has since 2007 worked hard to convince governments and the shipping industry to ban the discharge of waste water straight into the Baltic Sea. The organization had already succeeded in receiving voluntary commitments from many passenger ferry lines and cruise companies that travel the Baltic Sea.
The decision will make the dumping of waste water illegal from 2013 for all new ships, and from 2018 for all ships, when sufficient port reception facilities are available. A special working group will develop criteria for “adequate port reception facilities.”

“This is an important milestone for the Baltic Sea,” says Mattias Rust, WWF’s representative at the IMO meeting. “The responsibility now lies heavily on the Baltic Sea countries and their ports to provide the necessary port facilities.”
The world’s shipping nations met at the IMO in London to discuss environmental issues. In a joint submission from all the Baltic Sea states, the IMO was asked to “ban discharge of sewage from passenger ships and ferries in the Baltic Sea unless it has been sufficiently treated to remove nutrients or delivered to port reception facilities.”
The resolution was finally passed on Oct. 1.

In total, the Baltic Sea receives more than 350 cruise ship visits with over 2,100 port calls each year and the numbers are rapidly growing. The waste-water produced in these vessels is estimated to contain 113 tons of nitrogen and 38 tons of phosphorus. Most of this sewage is today discharged into the Baltic Sea, adding to the eutrophication of the sea. In addition to excess nutrients, the waste water also contains bacteria, viruses and other pathogens, as well as heavy metals.

Eutrophication is considered the main environmental problem for the shallow, semi-enclosed and brackish Baltic Sea, causing both biological and economic damage to the marine environment and coastal areas. It is caused by an overload of nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, from sewage and agricultural run-off into the ecosystem. Eutrophication causes many problems, including unusually strong and frequent summertime algae blooms, including blooms of toxic cyanobacteria.

At a meeting in Moscow in May, the WWF, citing a monitoring report it commissioned from Gaia Consulting, said that “Efforts by coastal states to implement the common program of action for the Baltic Sea are well behind schedule and schedules are being pushed further forward.” Even simple measures, like replacing phosphates in detergents with other, harmless components to prevent the hazardous over-concentration of nutrients had been pushed back in most of the countries surrounding the Baltic, the WWF said.

In 2007, the countries committed to the Baltic Sea Action Plan of measures aimed at protecting and restoring it to good status by 2021, and in February regional leaders pledged action, but the WWF has repeatedly complained that many of the efforts were being delayed. “The strength and the idea of the Action Plan is that the same Baltic Sea protection measures are implemented in all coastal states simultaneously to generate a significant combined impact,” Sampsa Vilhunen, head of WWF Finland’s marine program said in the statement.

“However, it looks like the program is being implemented in a fragmented way and action is marked by the principle of the lowest common denominator: when one party stalls, the whole effort is easily slowed down,” he said. For example, while more than 10 percent of the Baltic Sea is already considered a marine protection area, the protected areas do not yet form a unified conservation network, according to the report.