International Maritime Organisation bans direct dumping of Polyisobutylene (PIB) in sea

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) have banned globally the dumping of chemical Poly-iso-butylene (PIB) in to the sea following investigations by Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) of the UK that found out that it was responsible for recent cases of killing thousands of seabirds off the South coast of England. Further investigations also revealed that PIB was also the culprit in March 2010 ecological disaster when thousands of seabirds mysteriously died off the coast of Netherland.

International Maritime Organisation bans

  • It was found out that PIB is used by the sailors for tank cleaning operations on the Ship. It’s a high viscosity chemical (sticky) which trapped and killed these seabirds.
  • Following the detailed investigation, MCA recommended banning its dumping into the sea. After persistent campaigning by public and wildlife organizations, IMO changed highly viscous PIB’s hazard classification to prohibit any discharge of the chemical at sea from 2014.

Till now under MARPOL convention (which regulates marine pollution from ships) direct discharge of PIB into the sea , even though considered hazardous to marine ecology, was legal but with some conditions as its pollution risk was classed as category Y under Annex-ii. But now it has been moved from Category Y to Category X under Annex II of MARPOL which will completely ban its direct dumping into the sea.

What is PIB (Polyisobutene/ polyisobutylene / butyl rubber) ?

  • It is a man-made synthetic product which is non-toxic in nature but very sticky (viscous)
  • colourless or light yellow, odourless, tasteless and is the only form of rubber that is completely impermeable to gas as well as water.
  • first developed in the 1940s as a synthetic alternative to natural rubber (due to its scarcity following conflicts in rubber-producing regions).
  • persistent floater’, slow to degrade and non biodegradable

Used in :

  • manufacture of chewing gum, adhesive tape and sealants.
  • In shipping, it is often used as a thickening agent for industrial lubricant oils.

impacts on seabirds and marine wildlife

  • a hydrophobic substance on contact with water coalesces into a waxy, glue-like formation, generally floating at or just underneath the surface.
  • thus extremely hazardous to a range of seabird species, which dive to find food and get covered with it, which sticks their wings to their bodies and prevents them from feeding, causing immobilisation, hypothermia, starvation and eventually death.
  • also risk of ingestion of bits of PIB in its waxy form

MARPOL : The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships

  • established in 1973 by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) which is a UN agency responsible for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships.
  • A 1978 Protocol was adopted following several tanker accidents in 1976-1977. It absorbed the parent 1973 MARPOL Convention since it had not yet entered into force. The combined instrument entered into force on 2 October 1983.

The MARPOL Convention includes six Annexes which contains regulations for preventing and minimizing pollution from ships – both accidental pollution and that from routine operations :

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