The great balancing act between environmental aspirations and economic and political realities is never simple, this according to Spiros Polemis, Chairman, The International Chamber of Shipping, who discussed such challenges at the opening of the influential CMA Conference in Connecticut today.

In a speech entitled Balancing Environmental Aspirations with Economic Realities, Mr Polemis highlighted the dangers of aspirational legislation and said: “The ultimate goal of the shipping industry is simple: zero accidents, zero loss of life and zero pollution. In view of the huge liabilities involved for non-compliance this is a matter of enlightened self-interest. Particularly when speaking in the United States, it is always important to stress that we are a global industry requiring global rules.”

Mr Polemis also emphasised the need for legislators to ensure proposed environmental legislation is compatible with technical and economic realities and urged US States not to implement their own regulations. Mr Polemis added: “If major trading nations such as the US adopt rules that are at variance to those agreed by governments at the IMO we have chaos and if individual US States decide to implement their own rules in conflict with Federal requirements, it is even worse – we actually run the risk of double chaos.”

Highlighting the issues of ballast water management and sulphur emissions, Mr Polemis also noted the need to ensure enough low sulphur fuel will be available, to enable the international shipping community to meet low emissions requirements, in addition to the need to establish that equipment actually exists to meet ballast water treatment standards.

“Unfortunately, with ballast water, the problem we have with some US States choosing to go their own way, has been compounded by the failure of the IMO Ballast Water Management Convention to enter into force, although this should now be expected to happen within the next year or so.

“Also, regrettably, at a recent IMO meeting – under pressure from the United States, or more particularly the EPA – some major changes were proposed to some important draft guidelines on ballast water sampling that will be used by port state control inspectors and which could potentially be very damaging to ship owners if adopted by IMO,” he said.

Mr Polemis also discussed industry concerns that Market Based Measures may be seen by some governments as fund-raising opportunities with the shipping industry viewed as a “cash cow” by some.

He concluded that shipping should be treated like a sovereign state in its own right: “There is a serious point here about shipping resembling a sovereign nation, in that emissions from shipping do not lend themselves to inclusion in national CO2 reductions targets. A ship may be flagged in one country, and owned in another, while the cargo carried will be of economic benefit to a variety of different importing and exporting nations. This is why we need to maintain a special global regime for shipping.”