Environmental NGOs have called on the International Maritime Organisation to review the hazard classification of PIB following two spills in the English Channel and the deaths of thousands of sea birds.

Environmental NGOs have called on the International Maritime Organisation to review the hazard classification of PIB following two spills in the English Channel and the deaths of thousands of sea birds.

Working closely with the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Marine Conservation Society the Clean Shipping Coalition delivered the following statement to the 65th session of the International Maritime Organisation’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC65).

“This year, over 4,000 seabirds have been recorded washed up dead or dying along the south coast of England, covered in the substance polyisobutylene, alternatively polyisobutene or PIB. This substance, when discharged into the sea, coalesces into a glue-like consistency, coating birds’ wings and bodies and preventing them from feeding or flying.

The impact on populations at sea is likely to have been far higher, possibly affecting up to 40,000 birds. The longer term impacts of releasing PIB on other parts of the marine ecosystem are currently not well studied or understood.

The cause of this tragedy is still being investigated. However, the exact origin of previous PIB incidents has rarely been found and to our knowledge there have been no successful prosecutions against breaches of the MARPOL Convention in relation to PIB.

Under Annex II of MARPOL, the various forms of PIB are classified as Category Y, where although it is deemed to be a hazard that justifies a limitation on its release, it remains legal for a ship to discharge PIB under certain conditions. It is our understanding, however, that the testing of these substances to determine Annex II classification does not take place in realistic marine conditions, and in PIB’s case does not sufficiently consider the full range of potential impacts of PIB upon marine ecosystems when mixed with seawater, beyond whether the substance floats or sinks.

We also simply do not know how much PIB is released into the marine environment as part of routine tank-washing operations, and the cumulative impacts of these chronic releases.

As such it is our opinion that the risks of releasing PIB into the marine environment in any quantity are underestimated, and that an urgent review is needed of PIB’s classification status under MARPOL Annex II. We are also concerned that when legal discharges of a harmful substance are allowed it becomes more difficult to stop illegal discharges, as ships have a legitimate reason for proceeding to sea with the waste on board.

This week, leading UK wildlife charities signed a joint statement with the UK Chamber of Shipping, supported by the UK ports and maritime business sectors, strongly supporting such a review.

We would like to urge IMO Member States to respond swiftly to this serious issue and take a proactive approach to such a review. PIB has no proper place in our precious oceans and seas, and we must ensure that the classification of PIB under MARPOL fully reflects its impacts on marine life.”



RSPB Briefing on PIB Spills

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