Definitely, the policies taken by WWL on low-sulphur fuels has been very encouraging.

It took until 1959 for a real organisation to come into power: the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

“The IMO is a United Nations specialised agency,” explains Eivind Vågslid, Head of the IMO's Air Pollution and Climate Change Section.

“There are 169 member nations, each of which can raise any issue with one of the relevant committees or sub-committees in the IMO. Today we have 53 treaty instruments—conventions and protocols—in force, supported by some 800 codes, guidelines and numerous other supporting documents.”

The kinds of issues a member nation is likely to bring before the organisation are likely to be in reaction to an accident, or in response to technological developments. “Our aim is, of course, to be proactive, but most often IMO regulations are reactions to oil spills, accidents or other serious incidents,” Vågslid says. 

As an example, he notes an issue which is now emerging: underwater noise. “A compelling need has been demonstrated to respond to the underwater noise created by commercial vessels and their effect on marine life,” he says. “This might eventually lead to guidelines on how to design propellers that will disturb wildlife as little as possible.”

But how exactly does the IMO enforce the regulations it enacts?
Simply getting to an agreement can take many years, given the political differences within one single region—not to mention across the globe.

“The obligation for the member state is to implement the standards in their own national legislation,” Vågslid explains, “and then to enforce these for the ships that are flying their flag.” The IMO, in fact, sees its standards as the minimum, and that individual nations are always free to implement even stricter regulations of their own. 

One good example of national regulations helping to push acceptance of IMO's global standard is in the issue of ballast water. Ships, of course, use water within their steel hulls for stability at sea; the problem is that living things in the water ballast taken in one place—everything from bacteria to fish and shellfish larvae—may be released somewhere else, along with the water. These may then become harmful invasive species causing huge ecological and economic damage. 

“The ballast water management convention was adopted in 2003, but it still hasn't entered into force due to a lack of ratification,” Vågslid says. “You need to have 30 states, representing 35 percent of the tonnage, to achieve that.” While the IMO is nearing that magic figure, ship operators are finding they must comply even today. “Many of the member states, such as Australia, already require ships to comply with their regulations—not exactly the same as the IMO's but quite similar. There are also European and US ports that do the same.”

And while
he says that there are no figures to assess how individual carriers measure up to IMO regulations, he adds that, as an air pollution expert, he does appreciate the actions and directions set by Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics (WWL). 

“Definitely, the policies taken by WWL on low-sulphur fuels has been very encouraging, “he says. “One of the arguments was that you could not operate large two-stroke engines with low-sulphur fuels over long periods. WWL proved that this is not true.” And with ground-breaking IMO regulations having just established an energy efficiency agreement—“the first really binding climate agreement since the Kyoto Protocol,” Vågslid concludes—it's good to know that WWL is very much sailing in the right direction.”