International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems on Ships (the AFS Convention)

International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems on Ships (the AFS Convention) (full pdf format)


5.1 The purpose of the Convention1 is to ban the use of organotin

compounds which act as biocides in anti-fouling paints on ships,

specifically tributyl tin (TBT) based anti-fouling paints. From

1 January 2008, with minor exceptions,2 ships shall be required to

either remove any organotin compounds that are on their surfaces or

to ensure that any organotin compounds on their external surfaces are

sealed to prevent their leaching into the water.3

5.2 The Convention will enable Australia to enforce the full range of

controls on TBT-based anti-fouling paints on foreign and Australian

flagged vessels.

1 International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems on Ships, done

at London on 18 October 2001.

2 The exemptions of Australian Defence Force vessels will be discussed later in the

Chapter. See also paragraph 4.17 for further exclusions under the Convention.

3 Robert Alchin, Transcript of Evidence, p. 34.


Anti-fouling Systems

5.3 Article 2.2 of the Convention defines an anti-fouling system as ‘a

coating, paint, surface treatment, surface or device that is used on a

ship to control or prevent attachment of unwanted organisms’.

5.4 Anti-fouling systems are used to prevent the growth of algae,

barnacles and other marine organisms on a ship’s hull, enabling the

ship’s faster movement through the water, thus reducing fuel

consumption.4 In the early days of sailing ships, lime and later arsenic

were used to coat ships’ hulls; anti-fouling paints using metallic

compounds were later developed by the chemicals industry.5

Organotin-based compounds have been used since the 1970s. The

Committee was advised that the most successful of these anti-fouling

paints have been those which contain tributyl tin, which remains

effective for up to five years.6

Effects of TBT

5.5 The harmful effects of organotin-based compounds on marine life, the

environment and human health were first recognised in the early

1980s.7 In response to calls from the global community for

international action, the International Maritime Organization (IMO)

developed proposals for international regulations, which led to the

conclusion of the International Convention on the Control of Harmful

Anti-fouling Systems on Ships (AFS Convention).8

Environmental concerns

5.6 Scientific investigations have shown that TBT-based paints pose a

substantial risk of toxicity and other chronic impacts at the species,

habitat and ecosystem levels.9 Detrimental effects of these paints have

been reported on ecologically and economically important marine

organisms, such as oysters and molluscs. Further, contaminating

4 National Interest Analysis (NIA), para. 5; Transcript of Evidence, p. 34.

5 Source: International Maritime Organization (IMO) Website,

6 Regulation Impact Statement (RIS), para. 1.1.; R.Alchin, Transcript of Evidence, p.34.

7 RIS, para. 1.2.

8 RIS, para. 1.10.

9 NIA, para. 5.



sediments have been found in many port areas around the world and

the Committee understands that TBT is also highly toxic to a range of

marine reef biota.10 The Victorian Government advised that ‘the input

of organotins has been listed as a Potentially Threatening Process

under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1998.11

5.7 According to the Regulation Impact Statement (RIS), a report by the

Victorian Environmental Protection Authority in 1999 considered


organotins threatened biodiversity and ecosystem health, ecotourism

and related activities valued at $96 million each year

and aquaculture and fisheries, particularly mollusc

production valued at $55 million each year.12

5.8 Further, ‘there are strong indications that the presence of TBT-based

anti-foulants at ship grounding sites may present on ongoing

impediment to coral reef recovery’.13 The Queensland Government

commented on the damage caused to the Great Barrier Reef from

inappropriate disposal of blasting-waste containing organotin

compounds and from a vessel’s collision which exposed the

compound on the hull to the surrounding waters.14

5.9 The Committee was advised that if Australia does not adopt this

Convention, the level of environmental protection in Australia will be

lower than internationally adopted standards.15

Health impacts

5.10 In recent years concerns have also been raised about the impact of

TBT on human health, especially people who consume large

quantities of seafood in their diet.16 The possible harm to human

health as a result of the consumption of affected seafood is recognised

in the preamble to the Convention.

5.11 The RIS states at paragraph 1.2 that research in Australia conducted in

the late 1980s found evidence of TBT contamination in Sydney rock

10 NIA, para. 5.

11 Government of Victoria, Submission 26.

12 RIS, para. 1.3.

13 RIS, para. 1.8.

14 Queensland Government, Submission 25.

15 NIA, para. 10.

16 NIA, para. 6.


oysters. Other adverse effects have been reported on a range of

invertebrate species near ports and marinas around the Australian


5.12 The RIS states further that while the threat to human health has not

yet been studied in detail, organotins may disrupt the function of

human immune cells, particularly those which fight infection.17 The

Committee notes with concern the results of a recent United States

(US) study which showed that shipyard workers exposed to TBT even

for a few minutes developed ‘breathing difficulties, skin irritation,

dizziness, and flu-like symptoms’.18


5.13 The Committee understands that the Federal Cabinet agreed to the

banning of organotin-based antifouling paints through Australia’s

Oceans Policy in 1998. The Policy commits Australia to banning the

application of TBT to vessels being repainted in Australian docks

from 1 January 2006.19

5.14 The Committee was advised that two elements have assisted with the

domestic implementation of Convention20:

_ The States and the Northern Territory have implemented

legislation which prohibits the application of anti-fouling paint

containing organotins on vessels less than 25 metres in length. In

some cases this legislation extends to the application of such paints

on other structures (e.g. piers).

_ The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority

(formerly known as the National Registration Authority for

Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals) has set in place a process

for the deregistration of anti-fouling paints containing TBT.

5.15 Ratification of the Convention by Australia is dependent on the

passage of domestic legislation: the Protection of the Sea (Harmful

Anti-fouling Systems) Bill 2003 is expected to be introduced during

the Spring 2003 parliamentary sittings.21 The Australian Maritime

17 RIS, para. 1.5.

18 RIS, para. 1.5.

19 RIS, para. 1.19.

20 Robert Alchin, Transcript of Evidence, p. 35.

21 NIA, para. 4.



Safety Authority (AMSA) will also make appropriate subordinate

legislation such as Marine Orders and will also develop Instructions

to Surveyors and/or Class Societies, as necessary, based on guidelines

being developed by the IMO.22

5.16 Survey and certification of vessels will be required under Article 10 of

the Convention. According to the National Interest Analysis (NIA):

the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and/or an

authorised organisation will undertake this role as part of its

flag State control function for Australian ships.23

5.17 The Committee heard that the Convention has certification

requirements for two different groups of ships.24 Ships of 400 gross

tonnage and above engaged in international voyages will be required

to undergo an initial survey before the ship is put into service and a

survey when the anti-fouling systems are changed or replaced. This

excludes fixed or floating platforms, floating storage units, and

floating production storage and offtake units used by the oil

production industry. Ships of 24 metres or more in length, but less

than 400 gross tonnage engaged in international voyages are required

to carry a compliance declaration signed by the owner or owner’s

authorised agent.


5.18 The Convention provides for inspection of ships and detention for

violations. Each party must also prohibit and enforce violations of the

Convention under its domestic law. Compensation may be provided

for any loss or damage suffered if a ship is unduly detained or

delayed while undergoing inspection for possible violations of the


5.19 The RIS states that:

The Convention will not apply to any warship, naval

auxiliary, or other ships owned or operated by the country

and used only on government non-commercial service.26

22 NIA, para. 21.

23 NIA, para. 16.

24 Robert Alchin, Transcript of Evidence, p. 35.

25 NIA, para. 19.

26 RIS, para. 1.13.


5.20 The Committee understands that, while IMO environmental

conventions generally do not apply to naval vessels, Australian

Defence Force vessels seek to comply with international

environmental standards as far as practicable.27 This commitment is

recognised in Australia’s Oceans Policy.

Impact on States and Territories

5.21 Implementation of the Convention will establish a national approach

to TBT-based paints by complementing current State and Territory

regulations and policies.

5.22 The RIS states that the implementing legislation will form part of the

‘Protection of the Sea’ suite of acts which give effect to the IMO

environmental conventions:

As such, it will apply to all State/NT coastal and internal

waters, with suitable ‘roll-back’ provision preserving the

operation of State/NT legislation.28

5.23 The RIS also states that existing State and Northern Territory

legislation applicable to vessels less than 25 metres in length will need

to be examined in detail to ensure there are no omissions,

inconsistencies or duplication of requirements, although no

significant difficulties are foreseen.29

5.24 Submissions received from three state governments (Tasmania,

Queensland and Victoria) supported ratification of the Convention.

Industry impact

5.25 The Committee was advised that Australian industry has been aware

of the Convention and, depending on the docking cycle of ships,

alternatives to TBT-based paints are already in use.30

5.26 In terms of the certification requirement, the RIS states that the impact

on the Australian shipping industry will be minimal. Australian ships

undergo regular surveys by approved Classification Societies to

27 RIS, para. 1.19.

28 NIA, para. 20; RIS, para. 4.13.

29 RIS, para. 4.13.

30 Robert Alchin, Transcript of Evidence, p. 34.



verify compliance with a broad range of IMO conventions relating to

safety and protection of the marine environment.31


5.27 Regarding costs to the Australian Government, the NIA states at

paragraph 24 that:

costs of enforcement for the Convention will be low as

established inspection and certification procedures applied to

other IMO environmental conventions are already in place.

5.28 The Committee was advised that costs to paint manufacturers if the

Convention is ratified will be minimal. According to the RIS, the

largest Australian paint manufacturer estimates that anti-fouling

paint represented 2 per cent of total sales. 32

5.29 The Committee understands that alternative non-TBT-based antifouling

paints are readily available in Australia and overseas. The RIS

states that while short-term alternatives to TBT-based anti-fouling

paints are likely to be copper or silicone-based, the majority have been

developed for the pleasure craft market and are unsuitable for

commercial trading vessels.33 The Committee was advised of the

concerns raised by the Australian Shipowners Association about the

limited alternatives to TBT-based paints currently available in

Australia; the small Australian market and lack of competition has

resulted in premium costs.34

5.30 The RIS states that competition from the availability of more paints

will reduce these costs, although there are likely to be some cost

implications for shipowners in the short term, depending on a vessel’s

dry-docking cycle. The Committee understands that there are

currently many more alternative paints available overseas, and that

discussions have been held with the National Registration Authority

with the view to streamlining the assessment and registration


31 RIS, para. 4.11.

32 RIS, para. 4.12.

33 RIS, para. 4.7.

34 RIS, paras 4.7 and 5.1.

35 RIS, para. 4.8.



5.31 Several parties including industry, state and territories, paint

manufacturers and environmental groups have been consulted.36 The

Committee is satisfied with the range and extent of consultation and

that all relevant parties have been adequately involved in the treatymaking


5.32 The Committee notes that ongoing consultation is planned if changes

to the AFS Convention are proposed, or problems are experienced by

industry with regard to the Convention.37

Entry into Force

5.33 Australia signed the Convention on 19 August 2002. It will enter into

force internationally 12 months after the date at which at least

25 States representing 25 per cent of the world’s merchant shipping

tonnage have become Parties to the Convention. As stated at

paragraph 4.15, ratification by Australia is dependent on the passage

of domestic legislation: the Protection of the Sea (Harmful Antifouling

Systems) Bill 2003 is expected to be introduced during the

Spring 2003 parliamentary sittings.38

5.34 The NIA and RIS suggest that most countries are generally in favour

of this Convention and are adopting the standards outlined in the

Convention regardless of whether they are contracting parties. The

Committee was concerned however that, as at 30 April 2003, only

three states had ratified the Convention.39 The Committee was told

that other states are currently undergoing the process of ratification

and an ‘en masse’ signing is expected in due course.40

36 These consultations were described in the NIA at paras 25-7.

37 RIS, para. 7.4.

38 NIA, para. 4.

39 These states are Denmark, Antigua and Barbuda and Nigeria. These states represent 2.12

per cent of the world merchant tonnage.

40 Robert Alchin, Transcript of Evidence, p. 35 and Paul Nelson, Transcript of Evidence, p.36.



Concluding observations

5.35 The Committee recognises the leadership that Australia has

demonstrated in many areas of marine environment protection and

the important role played by the international maritime industry in

underpinning Australia’s international trade. The Committee also

accepts that, without international treaty-level action, there would be

insufficient impetus for the shipping and marine coating industries to

restrict the use of harmful anti-fouling systems.

5.36 The Committee notes the comprehensive information contained in the

Regulation Impact Statement concerning anti-fouling paint

compound and manufacture, the increasing acceptance and

availability of alternatives to TBT-based products and consultation

undertaken in the development of the Convention.

5.37 The Committee also understands that safer alternatives to TBT antifouling

alternatives exist and should last from between three and five

years, which should be suitable for the dry-docking cycle of most