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MARPOL regulation

Everything about the MARPOL regulation

The residues that ships generate in their daily activity entail an important risk for the marine environment. Oily mixtures, dirty water, rubbish and cargo might be hazardous for human health and other living organisms, and dumping them to the sea can damage the environment, specially in those areas where the main navigation routes are located.

To avoid the deterioration of the marine environment and minimize the effects of the activities that take place there, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has developed several international agreements throughout the years.

What is the MARPOL Convention  73/78

The history of the MARPOL Convention starts in 1973. That year took place the International Conference on Marine Pollution, which gave birth to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. This agreement was later modified by the Protocol of 1978 relating to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. Together, they are usually known as the MARPOL Convention 73/78.

The main goal of the MARPOL Convention 73/78 is the complete elimination of the intentional pollution of the marine environment by hydrocarbons and other harmful substances, also reducing to a minimum the accidental spills. Moreover, it also establishes that these residues must be treated on land in order to annul their polluting power and, whenever possible, recycle them.

What does MARPOL stand for

MARPOL is an acronym that stands for “Marine Pollution” and defines those residues generated by ships in their daily activities, their maintenance and cleaning operations, including residual water and non-cargo residues.

The MARPOL Convention annexes

MARPOL residues/waste are classified by five annexes:

  • MARPOL ANNEX I: Prevents the pollution by hydrocarbons. It refers to ballast water polluted with crude oil, ballast water polluted with oily products, and oily mixtures from the bilge in the engine room or from the fuel and oil purifying equipment.
  • MARPOL ANNEX II: Regulations for the control of pollution by noxious liquid substances in bulk. It refers to ballast water, liquid substances from tank cleaning and mixtures that contain dangerous substances.
  • MARPOL ANNEX III: Regulations for the prevention of pollution by harmful substances carried by sea in packaged form. This includes freight containers, portable tanks or road and rail tank wagons or other forms of containment. Any rest of the load that remains on board once the unloading and cleaning procedures are finished, including the residues and spilling originated during the loading and unloading operations.
  • MARPOL ANNEX IV: Regulations for the prevention of pollution by sewage from ships: drainage and other wastes from any form of toilets, urinals, and WC scuppers; drainage from medical premises (dispensary, sick bay, etc.) via wash basins, wash tubs and scuppers located in such premises; drainage from spaces containing living animals; or other waste waters when mixed with the drainages defined above.
  • MARPOL ANNEX V: Regulations for the prevention of pollution by garbage from ships. 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. 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… Ships might have onboard incinerators to eliminate garbage and other shipboard waste.
  • MARPOL ANNEX VI: Prevention of air pollution from ships.


Special areas under MARPOL 

The MARPOL convention establishes in each of its annexes certain special areas that are provided with a higher level or protection due to its vulnerability. They are sea areas in which, for technical reasons relating to their oceanographical and ecological condition and to their sea traffic, the adoption of special mandatory methods for the prevention of sea pollution is required.

Summary of the MARPOL Convention

When arriving to a port, the MARPOL Convention obliges ship masters to communicate the amount and type of residues they are carrying, and then delivering each type of residue to the right recipient facilities.

Therefore, the MARPOL Convention promotes the endorsement of plans for the reception and handling of residues by the managing entities and demands the Port Authorities to ensure the provision of adequate facilities.

These facilities are those of reception, usually located inside the port, and those of treatment and elimination, which can be outside the port. They must comply the following requirements:

  • Enough storage capacity according to the number of ships that might use them.
  • Treatment processes and technologies to accomplish a satisfactory elimination.
  • Sufficient means between the the ship and the MARPOL facilities to allow an unloading without any inappropriate delays.

In their infrastructure to serve the reception of ships, ports can use floating means like the Oil Tanker TM-083-023 built by SYM Naval, a ship that has been specially designed for collecting MARPOL I, IV, V and VI waste, with a total load capacity of 232.9 m3 for liquid waste and 36 m3 for solid waste.

The European Directive 200/59/CE

For the European Union, the protection of the seas and the coastlines is one of the main concerns of its policy on the environment. As a result, the Community has assimilated the goals of the MARPOL Convention in a Directive that restricts the dumping at sea from ships.

These are the main bullets points of the Directive 2000/59/EC of 27 November 2000 on port reception facilities for ship-generated waste and cargo residues:

  • Member States will provide adequate port reception facilities that meet the needs of the ships that normally use each port, without delays.
  • An appropriate waste reception and handling plan shall be developed and implemented for each port.
  • The master of a ship, other than a fishing vessel or recreational craft authorised to carry no more than 12 passengers, bound for a port located in the Community shall complete truly and accurately the form in Annex II and notify that information to the authority designated for this purpose.
  • The master of a ship calling at a Community port shall, before leaving the port, deliver all ship-generated waste to a port reception facility.
  • Notwithstanding the previous point, a ship may proceed to the next port of call without delivering the ship-generated waste, if there is sufficient dedicated storage capacity for all ship-generated waste that will be accumulated during the intended voyage of the ship until the port of delivery.

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