Tuesday, 27 October 2015

All hands to the pumps? Not if we're in the EU.

This is an interesting document. Or at least it's interesting if you are at all interested in the control and management of ship ballast water and sediments.

Since the introduction of steel-hulled vessels around 120 years ago, water has been used as ballast to stabilize vessels at sea. Ballast water is pumped in to maintain safe operating conditions throughout a voyage. This practice reduces stress on the hull, provides transverse stability, improves propulsion and manoeuvrability, and compensates for weight changes in various cargo load levels and due to fuel and water consumption.​

While ballast water is essential for safe and efficient modern shipping operations, it may pose serious ecological, economic and health problems due to the multitude of marine species carried in ships’ ballast water. These include bacteria, microbes, small invertebrates, eggs, cysts and larvae of various species. The transferred species may survive to establish a reproductive population in the host environment, becoming invasive, out-competing native species and multiplying into pest proportions.

Scientists first recognized the signs of an alien species introduction after a mass occurrence of the Asian phytoplankton algae Odontella (Biddulphia sinensis) in the North Sea in 1903. But it was not until the 1970s that the scientific community began reviewing the problem in detail. In the late 1980s, Canada and Australia were among countries experiencing particular problems with invasive species, and they brought their concerns to the attention of IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC).

The problem of invasive species in ships’ ballast water is largely due to the expanded trade and traffic volume over the last few decades and, since the volumes of seaborne trade continue to increase, the problem may not yet have reached its peak yet. The effects in many areas of the world have been devastating. Quantitative data show that the rate of bio-invasions is continuing to increase at an alarming rate and new areas are being invaded all the time.

The spread of invasive species is now recognized as one of the greatest threats to the ecological and the economic well being of the planet. Or so they say. This rather sounds like one of those global problems requiring international regulation. And it very much is. The document linked to above is a submission made on behalf of Intertanko (The international tanker owners trade body) to the International convention on Ballast Water Management.

This is topical because this week is the 2015 Tripartite Meeting Discussions. The meeting was attended by 100 high level representatives of the industry, including chairmen and executives of the Round Table Associations (BIMCO, ICS, Intercargo and INTERTANKO) and OCIMF, IACS with its Class Society Members and CESS with the Shipbuilder Associations. The IMO adopt regular amendments to the Ballast Water Management Convention which is the baseline for all such regulations on the matter.

The regulations pertain to the types of water treatment equipment, the classification of ballast systems and the regions where ballast water can taken and dumped - and the permitted frequency. To give you an idea of the scope and complexity, it's worth a quick flick through the Norwegian sector management regulations and the risk assessments on the various protected species add another layer of complexity. It has many crossovers with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), consulting the EU and the US EPA - and the BWM convention forms the basis of their rules and subsequent regulations. Implementation of it is a deeply political process.

If we look at the specific tract of EU regulations we find that the EU does mentions the convention by name, thus again, any further revisions to the convention will eventually become EU law. So when we hear the meme that Norway doesn't get a vote it doesn't matter. They are involved in the global process along with a dozen other independent countries including Australia, which give rise to the revisions in the first place. 

While it is an international problem that requires an international convention it also requires local management while respecting the needs and requirements of habits, ports and shipping companies. While there are moves to sub aquatic national parks and protected regions, nation states may have their own respective special measures and already adequate protection systems. Norway is one such example, where it has been able to secure exceptions and opt outs according to its own unique needs. Where delicate habitats are concerned, one size most definitely does not fit all.

Now I could spend all day on this post and further expand on the dynamics, but I really urge you to explore the matter for yourself. Many of these organisations are entirely anonymous - and I'll bet they are as alien to you as they are to me. But if we scratch the surface we can see that they are blocs of very large household name corporates and oil companies and NGOs producing vast tracts of regulation independently of national governments.

Only when the regulations are drafted are they presented to blocs like the EU and nations like Norway for political scrutiny. It shows that the EU, as we have already outlined, is a law taker and not a law maker and it delegates the production of technical regulation in precisely the same way everybody else does. 

The notion that the European Parliament adds any substantial scrutiny in committees to such regulation is amusing. Insofar as MEPs and their aides like the technical knowledge, competence and basic sentience to apply themselves to such a task, the majority of the horse trading has been done at the international level.

Certainly those who would criticise Nigel Farage for not turning up to fishing committee meetings have only a limited understanding of how things work. Given how much is already decided, I don't think I would bother turning up either - and you would probably find me sat in a Strasbourg bar as well. (Though not the same one.)

If you want real influence you have to be supporting your own industries, urging them to get into the many trade associations who sit at the top table. That way you get to intercept potentially harmful regulation before it gets anywhere near the European Parliament. Any strata of regulation you care to mention and I can show you Norwegian involvement somewhere in the chain. 

To judge the process by way of who gets a vote and who bothered to turn up to a vote in the EU is a pretty poor judge of the process and it ignores the fact that most of the work has already been achieved by delegations from interested parties. The modifications to Ro-Ro ferry regulations following the Estonia ferry disaster is one such example

Of course, that europhiles and sceptics alike are largely ignorant of this entire process gives you an idea of how little the public understands the global dimension to the regulatory process and how much the existence of the EU obscures it from view, as we explored earlier today. In terms of having a seat at the top table, the back rooms meetings of the European Parliament don't come anywhere close. 

The fact that all these organisations exist with barely a mention in the media and are scarcely acknowledged by our political class - and wilfully obscured by EU functionaries - tells you that the global mechanisms of law making, opaque as they are, are not nearly transparent or democratic enough. The presence of the EU parliament in the process is neither here nor there when it comes to actual democracy in the process. The ability to veto and secure exceptions on a national basis is about as good as you can get at the moment and that doesn't happen for us specifically because we are in the EU. 

That is not to say we do not have our own delegations in at the top tables, only that where the issue is a core EU competence, or where the ECJ decides the EU can take over, we are forced to adopt their own position and those EU member states with no interest in the specific a matter can be used to bully us into taking a position that is bad for our maritime sector.

As we have noted, alliances outside the EU are our best defence against being bullied by the EU - and it is very necessary that there is a counterweight globally to the hegemony of the EU. To say that we can wield influence at the heart of the EU by being in a relationship where it can subjugate us at will is an abuse of the English language. 

From critical environmental issues, to maritime safety to working practices and labour markets, from car wing mirrors to sugar levels in food, we are seeing the globalisation of law making and while we are on a leash to the EU we are a second rate power on the global forums. In all respects we are seeing a global convergence of laws on critical matters, and that is no bad thing. But local control and an active role at the top tables is always going to produce the fairest and most democratic results. This is something not even a reformed EU can even give us. 

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