Regulations for the Prevention of pollution by garbage from ships are contained in Annex V of MARPOL.
Overview 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 awareness 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
Source: Hellenic Marine Environment Protection Association (HELMEPA)
The 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 reception facilities at ports and terminals for the reception of garbage.
The special areas established under Annex V 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 to provide a Garbage Record Book and 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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 had 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 many 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.
The Marine Environment Protection Committee 40th Session on 25 September 1997 adopted a Standard Specification for Shipboard Incinerators (see resolution MEPC.76(40)). The specification covers the design, manufacture, performance, operation and testing of incinerators designed to incinerate garbage and other shipboard waste.
Cargo hold washing water
MEPC 59, having considered the problems associated with the disposal of cargo hold washing water from bulk carriers in accordance with the current requirements of MARPOL Annex V, and recognizing that the problem is addressed in the review of MARPOL Annex V (see below),
agreed to issue MEPC.1/Circ.675/Rev.1
, addressing this matter in the interim period up to the entry into force of the amendments to Annex V.
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 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.
The Correspondence Group for the Review of MARPOL Annex V completed its work and reported in the autumn of 2010 to the sixty-first session of MEPC who considered and approved the amendments. MEPC at its sixty-second session in July 2011 adopted the amendments to Annex V by resolution MEPC.201(62), which entered into force on 1 January 2013. The revised Annex V prohibits the discharge of all garbage into the sea, except as provided otherwise. An overview of the revised MARPOL Annex V discharge provisions can be accessed here.
MEPC 61, having noted the need for amendments to associated guidelines, also established the intersessional Correspondence Group on Reviewing the Guidelines for the Implementation of MARPOL Annex V and the Guidelines for the Development of Garbage Management Plans. The correspondence group finalized its work at MEPC 63 and the Committee adopted the two guidelines
by resolution MEPC.219(63) and resolution MEPC.220(63).