It was a huge victory for the environment today when the Belgian Federal Parliament voted for the implementation of the “International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea“. Known simply as the HNS Convention, the international agreement applies the ‘polluter pays’ principle in the event of an incident during the transport of hazardous and noxious substances, by ensuring that the shipping and HNS industries provide compensation for those who have suffered loss or damages resulting from the incident.
Push by Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany
However, there are still criteria to be fulfilled for the HNS Convention to come into full force worldwide. The number of contracting states currently stands at five, with Norway, Canada, Turkey, Denmark and South Africa. To meet the threshold of 40 million tonnes of contributing cargo, ratification by seven more states is needed. Therefore, together with the Netherlands, and Germany, Belgium will ratify the Convention simultaneously in 2023. The approval by the Belgian Parliament thus sets in motion the Convention’s implementation in Belgium.
The newly-adopted law establishes the Belgian legal framework necessary for the Convention’s future ratification, which will be carried out in consultation with the Netherlands and Germany, so that the rules will be identical between the three countries and can come into force at the same time. This is particularly important for the ports (Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg), but also for the ships that arrive at these ports as they will know what is expected of them.
With the three countries’ ratification, the total number of countries that have ratified will be eight. Once the quota of 12 is reached, the Convention will enter into force 18 months later.
Vincent Van Quickenborne, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for the North Sea states that “with this new Convention, we guarantee that in the event of a disaster, the polluter-pays principle is applied, and that the (financial) damages for Belgium remain limited.“
Belgian shipowners, represented by the Royal Belgian Shipowners’ Association (RBSA), likewise express their gratitude for the support of the Belgian government.
“The RBSA thanks the Deputy Prime Minister and the Parliament for their efforts to ratify the HNS Convention. It is the final piece of the Maritime Liability Conventions and is preferable to regional initiatives. With this ratification, Belgium once again demonstrates its status of a leading maritime nation. We are therefore convinced that other countries will follow suit so that the HNS Convention can soon enter into force,” says Elle De Soomer, RBSA’s Head of legal affairs, shipping policy & security.
To further understand the RBSA’s work on maritime liability, read our position paper on “Is the EU ‘Environmental Liability Directive’ effective against environmental damages caused by international shipping?“