The harmful environmental effects of organotin-based compounds, such as tributyltin (TBT) used in anti-fouling paints on vessel hulls and infrastructure have been recognised for some time. Anti-fouling paints are used to inhibit growth of marine organisms to maintain the efficiency of vessels and infrastructure.
The International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems on Ships (the HAFS Convention) was adopted by the International Maritime Organization on 5 October 2001, and entered into force internationally on 17 September 2008. The HAFS Convention prohibits the use of harmful organotins in anti-fouling paints used on ships and establishes a mechanism to prevent the potential future use of other harmful substances in anti-fouling systems.
Broadly, the HAFS Convention applies to ships of 400 gross tons and above engaged in international voyages, and to facilities used by the oil production industry. Surveys will be undertaken before a mandatory International Anti-fouling System Certificate can be issued and when an anti-fouling system is changed or replaced.
On 9 January 2007, Australia became a Party to the HAFS Convention, which has been implemented in Australian domestic legislation by the Protection of the Sea (Harmful Anti-fouling Systems) Act 2006 which commenced on 17 September 2008 to coincide with the international entry into force of the HAFS Convention.
Under the Convention, it is an offence for any ship bearing harmful chemical compounds on their hulls or external parts or surfaces to enter an Australian port, shipyard or offshore terminal, unless the ship bears a coating to prevent such compounds leaching into the water. A similar offence applies to Australian ships entering a port, shipyard or offshore terminal elsewhere in the world.