The Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks came into force in the UK in April 2015. It places certain liabilities and financial responsibilities on shipowners regarding wreck removal.
The Nairobi Wreck Removal Convention ("WRC") came into force last year, with ratification having been obtained from Denmark. Other contracting states to ratify the WRC include the UK, Nigeria, Germany, Bulgaria, Malaysia, Morocco, Malta, India and Iran.
In spite of the fact that reported marine casualties have gone down in recent years, the number of reported wrecks has in fact increased, causing a blight in many coastal waters and dismay to those who control our ports and harbours. The problems caused by wrecks in coastal waters and the navigational and environmental hazards they cause in these areas has only become more acute. The IMO has therefore resolved to tackle this problem head on with the introduction of the WRC.
The idea behind the WRC is to plug a gap in the international legal framework by setting in place a set of rules for states to remove wrecks promptly and effectively. The is when the wrecks are within a country's exclusive economic zone (or equivalent within 200 nautical miles from its baseline).
The WRC places financial responsibility for removal of wrecks in the waters of contracting states on shipowners, by making sure they take out compulsory insurance, or another financial security, to deal with the removal. The WRC sets out the liabilities of the shipowner to locate, mark and remove the wreck, the criteria for determining hazards posed by wrecks and measures to facilitate wreck removal, including when a coastal state may intervene.
As well as dealing with how the wrecks themselves will be removed, the WRC also covers a number of other related issues. These include obligations of shipowners to report casualties to the nearest coastal state, and the implementation of warnings of wrecks to other ships, mariners and the coastal states themselves.
Owners of ships over 300gt are now on notice that they must obtain a certificate from a WRC contracting state which says that insurance (or another financial security) is in place in accordance with the WRC. Ships flagged in contracting states are obliged to obtain a certificate from the state in question, whereas those flagged elsewhere would need to obtain a certificate from a relevant authority in a contracting state when in the Convention area.
The WRC has been welcomed by port authorities and others as a necessary legislation to tackle what is a serious hazard in many coastal regions, although it remains to be seen how it will work in practice, particularly in terms of how its measures can be enforced.