TT Talk - MARPOL Annex V: "garbage" - Who is ready to comply?

The current marine environmental legislation in relation to 'garbage' came into force in January 2013. The ability to comply adequately with these revisions, including its impact on land-based waste management, was reviewed by the relevant IMO sub-committee 13-17 May.

The sight of sea birds washed up on shorelines, caked in unknown substances that have been released at sea, is always going to be emotive. The reality is that environmental regulation at sea and on land has been a constant focus for the last few decades. Increasingly, this focus is impacting the interface between ship and shore, as evidenced in the work of IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) on MARPOL (the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships), and specifically Annex V. This annex deals with different types of garbage and the manner of their disposal.

In July 2011, IMO adopted extensive amendments to Annex V which formally entered into force on 1 January 2013. The revised Annex V prohibits the discharge of all garbage into the sea, except as provided otherwise, under specific circumstances. A thorough and useful guide on the requirements has been published by the UK P&I Club.

As with all such regulation there is substantial complexity, but the impact is considerable through the supply chain, particularly in relation to bulk cargoes. However, it needs to be recognised that the term 'garbage' includes 'cargo residues', which would encompass spilt or leaking containers, for example.

Perhaps unsurprisingly there is a complete ban on the disposal at sea of what most people would immediately recognise as garbage, including all forms of plastic. In brief, the latest amendments to MARPOL Annex V further control the discharge of cargo residues, whether or not contained in wash water, and cleaning agents and additives used in wash water, governed by the following criteria:

  • No discharge of cargo residues permitted less than 12 nautical miles from the nearest land

  • No discharge of cargo residues permitted within the defined 'special areas', which are in the main the busiest sea lanes (such as the North Sea and the Caribbean) and land-locked seas (for example the Baltic Sea, Black Sea, Red Sea and Persian Gulf). This is further subject to whether the ship is transiting between ports, both of which are within the special area, and where no adequate reception facilities exist.

  • No discharge of any cargo residues specified as 'harmful to the marine environment' (HME)

Thus, in accordance with the revised MARPOL Annex V and the related guidelines, most of the garbage which could previously be disposed of at sea, depending on its types and features or distance from the nearest land, can - since 1 January 2013 - no longer be disposed of at sea. The twin rub is that cargo needs to be classified and disposal is now required to be at a 'port reception facility'. There are a number of other issues, including ship safety and design that are not addressed here.

Cargo classification

By virtue of transitional arrangements lasting until the end of 2014, shippers must take all reasonable measures provisionally to classify cargoes as HME or not, and provide the information to the carrier and the Port State authorities at the point of lading and discharge. The classification is consistent with the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes Code (IMSBC), where the cargo declaration form should now contain such a provisional declaration. This may be supported by a product safety data sheet (SDS). The Annex V implementation guidelines stipulate the use of the UN Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (UN GHS). Under the guidelines, a cargo is considered HME if it fails any one of seven criteria set out in the UN GHS. The UK P&I Club document referenced above provides the relevant detail behind this.

Port reception facilities (PRF)

It has been widely reported that there are not as yet adequate PRF and this matter was discussed at the latest MEPC meeting 13-17 May. It was generally accepted that where no adequate PRF exist at the discharge port, cargo hold washing water containing HME residues may have to be discharged at a distance not less than 12 nautical miles from shore. This relaxation of the original timeframe was recommended to be limited to two years (ie. aligned with the end of the transitional period for cargo classification). Furthermore, the ban would still apply in special areas, and all this is subject to there being no reception facilities either at the receiving terminal or at the next port of call.

It is likely that 'adequacy' will continue to be a vexed question and MEPC will monitor Port State records concerning PRF. This information is generally available on the IMO's GISIS website to assist all parties in identifying how to comply with the regulations. To access the information you will need to register for a free Public Account.

In order to be adequate, the PRF should be able to meet the needs of ships using the port without causing them undue delay, made available and priced in a manner that does not provide a disincentive to use and also contributing to the improvement of the marine environment.

As with so much in shipping, one size does not fit all. It may yet prove unviable for some smaller ports to be able to provide the array of environmentally sound solutions that could be required to receive differing HME cargo residues and deal with them in compliance with other - land-based - environmental legislation. This will require deft handling between Flag State and Port State authorities to reach a realistic and sustainable balance that can achieve the broadest waste management objectives through the entire chain of responsibility.

Staff Author

TT Club