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Prevention of Pollution by Garbage from Ships



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

Background of MARPOL Annex V

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

BirdThe 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 awareness of the environment. Many items can be degraded by the seas - but this process can take months or years.

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.

The MARPOL Convention seeks to eliminate and reduce the amount of garbage being discharged into the sea from ships. Unless expressly provided otherwise, Annex V applies to all ships, which means all vessels of any type whatsoever operating in the marine environment, from merchant ships to fixed or floating platforms to non-commercial ships like pleasure crafts and yachts.

Although the Annex is optional1, it did receive a sufficient number of ratifications to enable entry into force on 31 December 1988. The original version of Annex V prohibited the disposal of plastics anywhere into the sea, and severely restricted discharges of other garbage from ships in coastal waters and “Special Areas”.

Revised MARPOL Annex V

The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), at its 55th session in October 2006, established an intersessional correspondence group to develop a framework for a comprehensive review of MARPOL Annex V. This review took into account resolution 60/30 of the UN General Assembly, which had 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.

In July 2011, MEPC 62 adopted, by resolution MEPC.201(62), the revised MARPOL Annex V which entered into force on 1 January 2013.

In March 2012, MEPC 63 adopted the 2012 Guidelines for the implementation of MARPOL Annex V (resolution MEPC.219(63)) and the 2012 Guidelines for the development of garbage management plans (resolution MEPC.220(63)).

The revised Annex V now generally prohibits the discharge of all garbage into the sea, except as provided otherwise in regulations 4, 5, and 6 of the Annex, which are related to food waste, cargo residues, cleaning agents and additives and animal carcasses. An overview of the revised MARPOL Annex V discharge provisions can be accessed here. Exceptions with respect to the safety of a ship and those on board and accidental loss are contained in regulation 7 of Annex V.

Under the revised MARPOL Annex V, garbage includes all kinds of food, domestic and operational waste, all plastics, cargo residues, incinerator ashes, cooking oil, fishing gear, and animal carcasses generated during the normal operation of the ship and liable to be disposed of continuously or periodically. Garbage does not include fresh fish and parts thereof generated as a result of fishing activities undertaken during the voyage, or as a result of aquaculture activities.

Port reception facilities

The effectiveness of ships to comply with the discharge requirements of MARPOL depends largely upon the availability of adequate port reception facilities, especially within special areas. Hence, the Annex also obliges Governments to ensure the provision of adequate reception facilities at ports and terminals for the reception of garbage without causing undue delay to ships, and according to the needs of the ships using them.

Special areas

The special areas established under Annex V are:

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

These are sea areas where for recognized technical reasons relating to their oceanographic and ecological condition and the particular character of traffic, such as heavy maritime traffic, low water exchange, extreme ice states, endangered marine species, etc., the adoption of special mandatory methods for the prevention of marine pollution by garbage is required.

Port State control

Provisions to extend port State control to cover operational requirements as regards prevention of marine pollution were adopted in 1994 and entered into force on 3 March 1996. Like similar amendments to the other MARPOL Annexes, regulation 9 of Annex V makes it clear that port State control officers can inspect a foreign-flagged vessel at a port or an offshore terminal of its State "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".


Regulation 10.1 also requires every ship of 12 metres in length or over and every fixed or floating platform to display placards notifying passengers and crew of the disposal requirements of the Annex; these placards should be written in the working language of the ship’s crew and also in English, French or Spanish for ships travelling to other States' ports or offshore terminals.

Garbage management plans

All ships of 100 gross tonnage and above, every ship certified to carry 15 persons or more, and every fixed or floating platform will have to carry a garbage management plan, which includes written procedures for minimizing, collecting, storing, processing and disposing of garbage, including the use of the equipment on board (regulation 10.2). The garbage management plan should designate the person responsible for the plan and should be in the working language of the crew. Resolution MEPC.220(63) provides the 2012 Guidelines for the development of garbage management plans.

Garbage Record Book

Implementation and enforcement is also the focus of regulation 10.3, which requires all ships of 400 gross tonnage and above and every ship which is certified to carry 15 persons or more engaged in voyages to ports and offshore terminals under the jurisdiction of another Party to the Convention and every fixed or floating platform to provide a Garbage Record Book and to record all disposal and incineration operations.

The date, time, position of the ship, description of the garbage and the estimated amount incinerated or discharged must be logged and signed. The Garbage Record Book 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 discharged garbage - if ship personnel can adequately account for all their garbage, they are unlikely to be wrongly penalised for discharging garbage when they have not done so. The appendix to MARPOL Annex V provides a standard form for a Garbage Record Book.

Cargo residues

The discharge of cargo residues was one of the issues addressed during the review of MARPOL Annex V. Cargo residues are defined as the remnants of any cargo which are not covered by other Annexes to the present Convention and which remain on deck or in holds following loading or unloading. They include loading and unloading excess or spillage, whether in wet or dry condition or entrained in wash water, but do not include cargo dust remaining on deck after sweeping or dust on the external surfaces of the ship (regulation 1.2 of the revised Annex V). In addition to this definition, the revised Annex V also stipulates that only those cargo residues that cannot be recovered using commonly available methods for unloading shall be considered for discharge.

A simplified overview of the regulations regarding the discharge of cargo residues under the revised Annex V can be accessed here. As a general rule, cargo residues which contain substances classified as harmful to the marine environment must not be discharged at sea, but have to be taken to port reception facilities. Regarding the discharge of cargo residues which do not contain any substances classified as harmful to the marine environment, the revised Annex V establishes different requirements depending on whether they are contained in wash water or not.

Solid bulk cargoes should be classified and declared by the shipper as to whether or not they are harmful to the marine environment, in accordance with the criteria set out in paragraph 3.2 of the 2012 Guidelines for the Implementation of MARPOL Annex V.

Recognizing the difficulties experienced by shipowners and operators in finding adequate reception facilities at receiving terminals, MEPC 65 (May 2013) approved MEPC.1/Circ.810 on Adequate port reception facilities for cargoes declared as harmful to the marine environment (HME) under MARPOL Annex V, which provides that, until 31 December 2015, cargo hold washwater from holds previously containing solid bulk cargoes classified as HME may be discharged outside special areas, under certain conditions as described in the circular.  The Assembly, at its 29th session in November 2015, having noted the concerns regarding the expiry date of 31 December 2015 of the circular which would leave a guidance gap until this matter could be further considered at MEPC 69 in April 2016, requested the Marine Environment Protection Committee to consider the issue as a matter of urgency at its next session and encouraged Member Governments to continue applying the provisions of MEPC.1/Circ.810 in the meantime, pending any action taken by MEPC 69.

MEPC 69 did not approve the proposal to extend the application of MEPC.1/Circ.810 and invited Member Governments to report to IMO any alleged inadequacies of reception facilities for HME residues, using the Format for reporting alleged inadequacies of port reception facilities (MEPC.1/Circ.834, appendix 1), and to consider making corresponding submissions to the Committee to bring the issue of such inadequacies to the attention of all parties concerned.

Shipboard incinerators

The Standard Specification for Shipboard Incinerators (resolution MEPC.76(40)) covers the design, manufacture, performance, operation and testing of incinerators designed to incinerate garbage and other shipboard waste.




1 See Article 14 (1) of MARPOL: “A State may at the time of signing, ratifying, accepting, approving or acceding to the present Convention declare that it does not accept any one or all of Annexes III, IV and V (hereinafter referred to as “Optional Annexes”) of the present Convention. Subject to the above, Parties to the Convention shall be bound by any Annex in its entirety."