After years of campaigning for stricter control of ship waste dumping at sea, environmental NGOs are cautiously celebrating substantial revisions to global rules governing garbage discharges from ships, as adopted at the International Maritime Organisation this week. NGOs are however concerned about loopholes and the likely inability of governments to properly enforce the new regulations.
Environmental groups the North Sea Foundation and Seas At Risk, who are represented at the International Maritime Organisation through the Clean Shipping Coalition, have been calling for International action on ship source litter for many years.
The most significant change to Annex V of the MARPOL Convention comes in the shift away from a system that listed what could not be dumped, to one that contains a “general prohibition” on dumping with only limited exceptions. Environmental NGOs welcome this development but fear that regulators have not given sufficient attention to the enforceability of the new regulations.
A key criticism of the new regulations concerns their failure to create a “closed system” that would allow full waste accounting to expose instances of illegal dumping. The existence of unnecessary exceptions to the “general prohibition” together with the continued use of on-board incinerators make it impossible to tell if the waste a ship delivers to a port reception facility is all the waste it has generated on its voyage or not.
It is also the case that although the dumping of plastics has been prohibited for many years, on most beaches, and certainly on any that are close to a shipping route, it is easy to find plastic items that have come from ships.
Jeroen Dagevos of the North Sea Foundation said: “After years of campaigning for international action on ship waste dumping we applaud the IMO for adopting stronger regulations. The global marine environment is under serious threat from the build of marine litter and although we are concerned that the current enforcement and compliance system is not working, these revisions are a big step towards ending the problem of ship waste dumping.”
Chris Carroll of Seas At Risk said: “The extension of the ban on dumping plastics to other ship waste is welcome but the amended regulations are a missed opportunity as regards effective enforcement. Policing ships at sea is almost impossible and without a closed system and full waste accounting it will be difficult for port authorities to identify breaches of the regulations. ”