Prevention of Pollution by Garbage from Ships

Regulations for the Prevention of pollution by garbage from ships are contained in Annex V of MARPOL 73/78.

Review of Annex V

Garbage from ships can be just as deadly to marine life as oil or chemicals.

The greatest danger comes from plastic, which can float for years. Fish and marine mammals can in some cases mistake plastics for food and they can also become trapped in plastic ropes, nets, bags and other items - even such innocuous items as the plastic rings used to hold cans of beer and drinks together.

It is clear that a good deal of the garbage washed up on beaches comes from people on shore - holiday-makers who leave their rubbish on the beach, fishermen who simply throw unwanted refuse over the side - or from towns and cities that dump rubbish into rivers or the sea. But in some areas most of the rubbish found comes from passing ships which find it convenient to throw rubbish overboard rather than dispose of it in ports.

For a long while, many people believed that the oceans could absorb anything that was thrown into them, but this attitude has changed along with greater awarenes of the environment. Many items can be degraded by the seas - but this process can take months or years, as the following table shows:

Time taken for objects to dissolve at sea
Paper bus ticket
2-4 weeks
Cotton cloth
1-5 months
Rope
3-14 months
Woollen cloth
1 year
Painted wood
13 years
Tin can
100 years
Aluminium can
200-500 years
Plastic bottle
450 years

Source: Hellenic Marine Environemnt Protection Association (HELMEPA)

The 1973 MARPOL Convention sought to eliminate and reduce the amount of garbage being dumped into the sea from ships.

Under Annex V of the Convention, garbage includes all kinds of food, domestic and operational waste, excluding fresh fish, generated during the normal operation of the vessel and liable to be disposed of continuously or periodically.

Annex V totally prohibits of the disposal of plastics anywhere into the sea, and severely restricts discharges of other garbage from ships into coastal waters and "Special Areas".

The Annex also obliges Governments to ensure the provision of facilities at ports and terminals for the reception of garbage.

The special areas established under the Annex are:

  • the Mediterranean Sea
  • the Baltic Sea Area
  • the Black Sea area
  • the Red Sea Area
  • the Gulfs area
  • the North Sea
  • the Wider Caribbean Region and
  • Antarctic Area

These are areas which have particular problems because of heavy maritime traffic or low water exchange caused by the land-locked nature of the sea concerned.

Although the Annex was optional, the Annex did receive sufficient number of ratifications to enter into force on 31 December 1988. Provisions to extend port State control to cover operational requirements as regards prevention of marine pollution were adopted as a new regulation 8 to the Annex in 1994 (entering into force on 3 March 1996).

Like similar amendments adopted to the other MARPOL Annexes, the regulation makes it clear that port State control officers can inspect a foreign-flagged vessel "where there are clear grounds for believing that the master or crew are not familiar with essential shipboard procedures relating to the prevention of pollution by garbage".

Implementation, and enforcement, was also the focus of a further new Regulation 9, adopted in 1995, which requires all ships of 400 gross tonnage and above and every ship certified to carry 15 persons or more, and every fixed or floating platform engaged in exploration and exploitation of the seabed, must provide a Garbage Record Book, to record all disposal and incineration operations.

The date, time, position of ship, description of the garbage and the estimated amount incinerated or discharged must be logged and signed. The books must be kept for a period of two years after the date of the last entry. This regulation does not in itself impose stricter requirements - but it makes it easier to check that the regulations on garbage are being adhered to as it means ship personnel must keep track of the garbage and what happens to it.

It may also prove an advantage to a ship when local officials are checking the origin of dumped garbage - if ship personnel can adequately account for all their garbage, they are unlikely to be wrongly penalised for dumping garbage when they have not done so.

Regulation 9 came into force for new ships from 1 July 1997 and from 1 July 1998 all applicable ships built before 1 July 1997 also have to comply: all ships of 400 gross tonnage and above and every ship certified to carry 15 persons or more, and every fixed or floating platform engaged in exploration and exploitation of the seabed.

The Regulation also requires every ship of 12 metres or more in length to display placards notifying passengers and crew of the disposal requirements of the regulation; the placards should be in the official language of the ship's flag State and also in English or French for ships travelling to other States' ports or offshore terminals.

Despite the entry into force of Annex V in 1988, even recent surveys carried out in the United States each year have produced up to 10 tons of garbage per mile of coastline, a record that can probably be matched in may other parts of the world. Plastic forms the biggest single item found.

Persuading people not to use the oceans as a rubbish tip is a matter of education - the old idea that the sea can cope with anything still prevails to some extent but it also involves much more vigorous enforcement of regulations such as Annex V.

Garbage Management Plans

All ships of 400 gross tonnage and above and every ship certified to carry 15 persons or more will have to carry a Garbage Management Plan, to include written procedures for collecting , storing, processing and disposing of garbage, including the use of equipment on board. The Garbage Management Plan should designate the person responsible for carrying out the plan and should be in the working language of the crew.

The regulation is important because it requires ship operators to track their garbage and take notice of what happens to it.

In accordance with regulation 9 of Annex V, all ships of 400 gross tonnage and above and every ship certified to carry 15 persons or more, and every fixed or floating platform engaged in exploration and exploitation of the seabed, must provide a Garbage Record Book, to record all disposal and incineration operations. The date, time, position of ship, description of the garbage and the estimated amount incinerated or discharged must be logged and signed. The books must be kept for a period of two years after the date of the last entry.

Administrations may exempt fixed or floating platform while engaged in exploration and exploitation of the seabed from providing a Garbage Record Book.

Regulation 9 of Annex V of MARPOL 73/78 came into force for new ships from 1 July 1997 but from 1 July 1998 all applicable ships built before 1 July 1997 also have to comply.

Every ship of 12 metres or more in length must also display placards notifying passengers and crew of the disposal requirements of the regulation; the placards should be in the official language of the ship's flag State and also in English or French for ships travelling to other States' ports or offshore terminals.

MEPC/Circ.317 gives Guidelines for the development of garbage management plans and an Appendix to Annex V of MARPOL gives a standard form for a Garbage Record Book.

Shipboard incinerators

The Marine Environment Protection Committee 40th Session 18?25 September 1997 adopted a Standard Specification for Shipboard Incinerators. The specification covers the design, manufacture, performance, operation and testing of incinerators designed to incinerate garbage and other shipboard waste.

Review of Annex V

The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) at its 55th session in October 2006 established an intersessional correspondence group to develop the framework, method of work and timetable for a comprehensive review of MARPOL Annex V Regulations for the prevention of pollution by garbage from ships and the associated Revised Guidelines for the implementation of MARPOL Annex V. The review will take into account resolution 60/30 of the UN General Assembly, which invited IMO to review MARPOL Annex V, in consultation with relevant organizations and bodies, and to assess its effectiveness in addressing sea-based sources of marine debris.