President Obama last month signed the Antifouling Systems Treaty ratification package, and on Aug. 21 the U.S. Ambassador in London deposited the instrument of ratification at the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO), in a step that will make the United States a “Contracting State,” and help protect domestic waters, safeguard the global environment, and promote the development of safer technologies for controlling biofouling on ship hulls.
The International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-Fouling Systems, commonly known as the Anti-Fouling Convention (AFS or Treaty), will enter into force for the United States on November 21, 2012.
ACA and its Marine Coatings Committee and Antifouling Workgroup have been actively pressing Congress and the Obama Administration to ratify the treaty since 2008, urging that ratification of the treaty not only had the broad-based support from the marine paint and coatings industry, international maritime community, and endorsement from the U.S. Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In its efforts to spur ratification, ACA had also underscored that delayedratification excluded the United States as a party to future IMO decision making. Only countries party to the treaty can participate in the vote at the IMO, a right which the United States will now be afforded.
The AFS, which eliminated TBT (organotin) use globally, was adopted by the IMO at the Diplomatic Conference in October 2001, with the United States as a signatory of the treaty. After the requisite number of Flag States deposited their instruments of ratification to the IMO, the Anti-Fouling Convention entered into force on Sept. 17, 2008. Some 61 signatories representing 80.22 percent of the world’s tonnage have ratified the AFS Treaty. The treaty relies on rigorous scientific review as the basis for determining when controls are needed to limit the negative impacts of anti-fouling systems, and its implementation will uphold the standing of the United States as an environmental leader.
Anti-fouling coatings and systems are designed to minimize the amount of marine growth that accumulates on a ship’s hull during normal operation. Assemblages of marine organisms on ship hulls, known as hull fouling, can increase ship operating costs, fuel consumption, and harmful gas emissions.
Non-native species can also be transported around the world on fouled ship hulls, which can colonize and disrupt sensitive ecosystems.
In formulating coatings for these requirements, the marine coatings industry has striven to formulate the most effective coatings while simultaneously being mindful of minimizing the impact of the coatings on the environment. It was this concern that spurred the industry to replace tributyl tin (TBT) coatings with more environmentally benign cuprous oxide based biocidal coatings and non-biocidal coatings. This experience led the United States to be among the chief advocates of the AFS; however, ratification of the treaty was slow coming.
The convention prohibits the new application of listed anti-fouling systems and it imposes a requirement that organotin biocides be removed from hulls or over-coated to prevent leaching (Note: to date, the only listed substance is TBT and any new ones added — Annex 1 substances — would also have the requirement to remove or overcoat). Through survey, certification, and inspection mechanisms, the convention provides the means for ensuring international compliance. The convention provides the appropriate means for addressing any other anti-fouling systems that might later be determined to pose a threat to the marine environment. It also addresses other important issues related to harmful anti-fouling systems, including the prevention of environmental harm during the removal of those systems.
The marine paint and coatings industry favors the convention, since it will provide a single regulatory program for all countries throughout the world, as well as a market for hull coatings that do not contain organotin biocides. For similar reasons, ship owners and operators favor the convention because it will level the playing field by requiring all vessels operating in international trade to adhere to the restrictions on coatings containing organotin biocides and spur development of alternatives. Shipyards in the United States also support the convention since they already must comply with the ban on coatings containing organotin biocides for vessels less than 25 meters in length and must meet stringent leaching standards that are unique to the United States.
ACA and industry have always maintained the AFS will have a positive impact on the health of the marine environment beyond U.S. borders and ensure competitiveness between shipping states.