Web alert: Australia - MARPOL Annex-V violations and the possible consequences
24 February 2015
This web alert is a clarification on the club's cover and support of its members in the event of a breach of MARPOL Regulations. It also provides additional guidance to members on how to protect themselves from potential violations and what might be considered to be, as a minimum, reasonable measures to prevent such discharges. It is hoped that the implementation of these measures will also prevent or mitigate fines should members be accused of such violations.
Standards for ships
The regulations to prevent pollution by garbage generally prohibit the disposal of all garbage at sea. The limited exceptions permit the discharge of some types of waste such as food waste, provided the vessel is at least a specified distance from the nearest land. Ships are also required to have detailed garbage management plans and record books.
Members are advised to consult the text of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) in order to obtain full details of the discharge requirements before undertaking discharges at sea.
Additional stricter requirements may apply when in Australian ports or operating in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. For more detailed information about these requirements, members are advised to consult the AMSA website.
Role of Government
In addition to placing obligations on ships, MARPOL places an obligation on Governments to ensure ports provide adequate facilities for the disposal of the various waste products generated on board.
Port state authorities around the world are taking an increasingly hard line on ships which have breached or are suspected to have breached the MARPOL Regulations.
In Australia, AMSA conducts an extensive programme of inspections of ships visiting Australian ports to ensure compliance with the relevant IMO Conventions; and they are extremely zealous in their investigation and prosecution of owners.
Fines & Penalties
There are substantial penalties for breaches of the MARPOL restrictions on discharge contained in the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983 and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975.
The legislation provides wide powers for AMSA marine surveyors to board ships and obtain evidence such as oil samples, and enables ships to be detained while investigations are carried out.
A number of vessels have been caught out by garbage disposal offences recently. These offences typically arise inadvertently due to a lack of knowledge of regulations and incomplete garbage management plans and signage onboard.
Contrary to the usual regulations under MARPOL for the disposal of garbage at sea, disposal of all garbage, including comminuted/ground food waste, is prohibited throughout the Great Barrier Reef region. Unfortunately, the MARPOL provision which establishes this absolute prohibition does so in a way that is easy to overlook, and so the prohibition is often not mentioned in standard form garbage management plans and vessel signage.
Generally, ships may dispose of certain limited forms of garbage at sea whilst en-route and at particular distances out ‘from the nearest land’. In certain ‘special areas’ greater restrictions apply. However, the Great Barrier Reef region is not listed as a ‘special area’. Instead, it is only (somewhat obscurely) referenced in Regulation 1 of Annex V in the definition of ‘from the nearest land’ for this area.
For the purpose of MARPOL, ‘from the nearest land’ off the North Eastern coast of Australia shall mean from a line drawn as follows:
- from a point on the coast of Australia in latitude 11o00’ South, longitude 142o08’ East, to a point in latitude 10o35’ South, longitude 141o55’ East,
- thence to a point latitude 10o00’ South, longitude 142o00’ East,
- thence to a point latitude 9o10’ South, longitude 143o52’ East,
- thence to a point latitude 9o00’ South, longitude 144o30’ East,
- thence to a point latitude 10o41’ South, longitude 145o00’ East,
- thence to a point latitude 13o00’ South, longitude 145o00’ East,
- thence to a point latitude 15o00’ South, longitude 146o00’ East,
- thence to a point latitude 17o30’ South, longitude 147o00’ East,
- thence to a point latitude 21o00’ South, longitude 152o55’ East,
- thence to a point latitude 24o30’ South, longitude 154o00’ East,
- thence to a point on the coast of Australia in latitude 24o42’ South, longitude 153o15’ East.
This provision effectively establishes an artificial baseline at the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef; and no discharge of any type is permitted in the area of Great Barrier Reef. In some cases this can be as much as 150 nautical miles from the Queensland coast.
From the club’s perspective, shipowners need to take all reasonable measures to develop a system to protect themselves from MARPOL violations.
Members are reminded that, other than in cases of purely accidental discharge, P&I cover for fines related to MARPOL violations is only available on a discretionary basis. In such cases, members will be required to satisfy the board that they took such steps as appear to the board to have been reasonable to avoid the offence.
The club advises owners to take all reasonable measures to develop a system to protect themselves from MARPOL violations. This may include ensuring their vessels carry appropriate paperwork for proper navigation, including up-to-date navigation charts and carefully plotted voyage plans, together with garbage management plans and signage which identify the prohibition against all garbage disposal within the Great Barrier Reef region.