From wetsuit to business suit: inside the IMO

Background - 5 April, 2004
Meet Sari Tolvanen. Sari has been campaigning for Greenpeace's Oceans campaign in the Nordic region, donning wetsuits to work hands-on and business suits to represent Greenpeace at the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) during the recent deliberations over "Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas" (PSSA's). A relative newcomer to Greenpeace, Sari has a background in Marine Biology and hails from Finland, so the issue of the Baltic has particular resonance for her.

Sari Tolvanen in London last week

Here's what she saw happen at the IMO last week when three new PSSA's were designated: the Canary Islands, The Galapagos Archipelago and the Baltic Sea (despite opposition), and why her work isn't over just yet ...

"Before going to the IMO I was really concerned, obviously that Russia, Panama and Liberia would manage to get a freeze on the PSSA process and stop the Baltic proposal. But it was really, really great to see that the member nations care. We have been part of the working groups going through these applications so it was quite emotional, I don't know how else to say it but it was really great!

The inclusion of the Baltic, as expected, was opposed by Russia, Liberia Panama. The opposing countries argued as before over the fact that the PSSA status should only be given to "single ecosystems" under threat. "Single ecosystem" is a concept not entirely applicable to the oceans, where ecosystems are often widely connected. (For example, the Great Barrier Reef PSSA consists of over 100 different ecosystems. Funnily there is nothing even in the guidelines to say the PSSA's should be restricted in size or number of "ecosystems".)

Russia also argued over the fact that they were not "consulted" over the application and tried to point out sentences in the guidelines to show this was in someway unacceptable. This didn't really take on either as they had been consulted, and there is nothing in the guidelines that says all affected parties have to agree, so they went on to call for a vote. The majority won after which Russia went on to say that they cannot associate themselves with a decision they feel is a violation of the IMO rules and reserved the right not to implement.

After that, few countries gave their support for the Baltic. But one of them that did, Ecuador, is a country we have been working closely with this week. It was nice to see their gratitude.

The three countries (Russia, Panama and Liberia) were also calling for a review of the guidelines and moratoria on all current applications during this review. At an earlier ruling on Monday this was fortunately rejected. The committee did however conclude that a review could take place in the future if there are specific proposals submitted by the member nations. The US, for example, confirmed they are considering this for the next meeting. It is also more than likely that the three opposing nations will do submissions again in order to stop future applications for large sea areas. I believe the review can be a positive step in the process but the member nations will have to make sure they do not end up compromising on future protection of our oceans.

So, now the three approved in principle PSSA's need to be implemented effectively, so it's time for us to campaign on associated measures for the Baltic that will truly ensure safer shipping."