Improving shipping practices and standards

WWF has worked within the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for many years on a number of issues involving shipping practices and standards.
The IMO is the UN body responsible for overseeing shipping-related issues. Its 137 member states are legally bound by all IMO conventions they have ratified, several of which aim to reduce the impacts of shipping on the marine environment.

Examples of our work with the IMO include:
  • Better management of ballast water through the Convention on Ballast Water Management.

  • Elimination of single-hull oil tankers: WWF was influential in the phasing out single-hull tankers by 2010.

  • Elimination of toxic anti-fouling paints: WWF campaigned for the Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems on Ships.

  • Reductions to bilge oil discharges: WWF is pushing for international adoption of a resolution of the Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) for the control of bilge oil discharges.
  • Changing shipping lanes to protect north Atlantic right whales: WWF was instrumental in a change to shipping lanes in Canada’s Bay of Fundy to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) from collisions with ships. 

We are additionally working with maritime countries and various industries to combat the current unsafe shipping system. For example, WWF seeks:
  • Auditing procedures to ensure that all vessels are applying regulations to an adequate standard
  • Full responsibility taken by all sectors of industry involved in transporting oil and toxic cargoes at sea, demonstrated through their policies, procedures, and actions
  • Action to ensure that improved regional standards do not result in sub-standard vessels moving to areas of the world even less able to respond to major shipping accidents such as oil spills.
 / ©: Maren Esmark / WWF
Freight ship of the "Korea Line" clearing its bilge near Vancouver harbour, British Columbia, Canada. Oil slick showing in the ship's wake.
© Maren Esmark / WWF

Goodbye to toxic anti-fouling paints

For many decades, organotins - including TBT, considered by many to be the most toxic chemical knowingly released into the marine environment - have been used in anti-fouling paints on ships.

WWF has long lobbied IMO member states and the shipping and paint industries to stop the use of these harmful chemicals, which have contaminated marine life around the world and can cause severe damage to reproduction and immune systems.

In 2001, the IMO finally adopted the International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems on Ships to phase out dangerous anti-fouling chemicals, including organotins. The Convention entered into force in 2008 and WWF is now working to ensure key shipping states implement its regulations.

WWF is also working with the shipping and paint industries to stop the use of organotins.

For example, we initiated several trials of biocide-free anti-fouling paints, including non-toxic, non-stick coatings to prevent marine plants and animals from attaching to ship hulls. Many of these environmentally sound paints are promising alternatives to organotin.
 / ©: Mike Spindler / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Marine mammals, even in remote areas, are contaminated with organotin compounds.
© Mike Spindler / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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