Mainland High School
Lord of the Trash Rings: ISTF 09-2004
Marine Laws
History of MARPOL
The International Maritime Organization, IMO, adopted the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, MARPOL, on 2 November 1973. The agreement, which has undergone numerous amendments, covers pollution by oil, chemicals, harmful substances in packaged form, sewage and garbage. MARPOL, once known as OILPOL, was a response by multiple nations to a realization in the early 20th century that oil spills were a problem, and that regulations to control discharges of oil in their territorial waters were nonexistent. Over the course of its creation in 1973, MARPOL has introduced six different Annexes to regulate different forms of pollution:
  1. pollution from oil,
  2. pollution from harmful chemicals,
  3. pollution from harmful substances in packaged form,
  4. pollution from sewage from ships,
  5. pollution of garbage from ships, and pollution from sewage from ships, and
  6. air pollution from ships
Plastic Ban
The most important of these annexes in response to the prevention of the gyres becoming polluted by flotsams of plastic, is Annex 5 which came into entry on December 31st, 1988. This annex deals with different types of garbage and specifies the distances from land and the manner of the garbage's disposal.
"The requirements are much stricter in a number of "special areas" but perhaps the most important feature of the Annex is the complete ban imposed on the dumping into the sea of all forms of plastic."
Special areas are waters where natural circulation is limited or nonexistent, making any garbage dumped in these areas linger for an extrordinarily long amount of time. Or, they might also be high traffic areas in which a large amount of dumped garbage would rapidly accumulate despite currents and other natural means.

1996 Protocol
In 1996, MARPOL further regulated the dumping of wastes or other matter into the ocean by their 1996 Protocol which further regulated content dumped to the ocean to only regulated materials approved by MARPOL. A limited exception to dumping of waste was also granted to small islands with isolated communities which have no practicable access to disposal options other than dumping. Among the materials included were:
  • vessels and platforms or other man-made structures at sea, and

  • bulky items primarily comprised of iron, steel, concrete and similar harmless materials, for which the concern is physical impact
This conference further highlighted the problem with plastics and agreed to continue the ban on dumping of any sort of plastic directly into any of the world's oceans.

Garbage Management Plans
At the original 1973 conference, MARPOL decided that the only way to know how and where garbage was materializing was to have ships carry logs. These logs would help save a ship from fines if all their garbage was accounted for; and, they would help find polluters if garbage in a certain area was found with no log entries. All ships must comply with the regulations set by this protocol.

The guidelines created for the Regulation 9 of Annex V were:
  • All ships of 400 gross tonnage and every ship certified to carry 15 persons or more must carry a Garbage Management Plan that includes: written procedures for collecting garbage, procedures for storing, processing and disposing of garbage, and the use for equipment on board.

  • All Ships of 400 gross tonnage and above and every ship certified to carry 15 persons or more, and every fixed or floating platform in exploration or exploitation of the seabed, must provide a Garbage Record Book logging all garbage disposal, description of the garbage, all incineration operations, estimated amount incinerated or discharged, accompanied by a date/time stamp and the ship's position (Longitude and Latitude).
All shipboard incinerators must be within a certain size and shape, depending on the ratio of garbage produced to the size of the crew. An incinerator also must produce a certain amount of heat. For continuous-feed shipboard incinerators, it must produce over 850C exhaust temperatures. For batch-loaded shipboard incinerators, it must reach 600C in less than 5 minutes. This regulation established by the IMO also states that under no circumstances without a permit shall any ship burn PVC.

Dumping Regulations of the United States
The United States, like many countries, have certain ranges for dumping certain material. Each knowing violation of these requirements may result in a fine of up to $500,000 and 6 years imprisonment.
  • ALL discharge of garbage is prohibited in the Great Lakes or their connecting or tributary waters.
  • In Lakes, rivers, bays, sounds and up to 3 miles offshore it is illegal to dump all garbage
  • From 3 to 12 nautical miles offshore it is illegal to dump plastic, dunnage, lining and packaging materials that float, any trash not ground to less than 1"
  • From 12 to 25 nautical miles offshore it is illegal to dump plastic, dunnage, lining and packaging materials that float.
  • Outside 25 nautical miles offshore it is illegal to dump plastic.
An inspection to investigate certificates and safety takes place at the port at which the boat is stationed. In this case the offense can either give penalties according to their own laws, or give details of the offense to the flag state so that the latter can take appropriate action. However, if it occurs in international waters, the responsibility rests with the flag state to distribute penalties and fees. Under the terms of the 1969 convention relating to Intervention on the High Seas, contracting states are empowered to act against ships of other countries which have been damaged which causes pollution, or if a grave risk of pollution occurs.

The enforcement of MARPOL and other IMO conventions depend on the governments of Member Parties that attend the conferences. The conference and MARPOL itself has no powers to enforce conventions. IMO was established to adopt legislation and Governments are responsible for implementing it. These contracting governments enforce the provisions of IMO conventions and conferences as far as their own ships are concerned. Each government also sets the penalties for infringements, or if they are applicable. This causes penalties to vary country to country, but all guidelines are retained by the IMO and MARPOL. Governments may also have certain limited powers in respect to the ships of other countries.

Retention can occur if "there are clear grounds for believing that the condition of the ship and its equipment does not correspond substantially with the particulars of that certificate" within a state's jurisdiction.

Conflict of Law Rules
Although a substantial part of maritime law has been made uniform in international treaties, not every state is Party to all conventions and the existing Conventions do not always cover all questions regarding a specific subject. States and countries can refuse to send delegates to conventions to which topics they don't agree with, arguing the law doesn't apply to them because it wasn't ratified by the state. In those cases conflict of law rules are necessary to decide which national law applies. These decision cases are most likely decided by committees from MARPOL or IMO.

Other Problems
Some countries lack the expertise, experience and resources necessary to do this properly. Others perhaps put enforcement fairly low down their list of priorities. IMO and MARPOL realize this and with 167 Governments as Members, IMO has plenty of teeth but some of them don't bite. The result is some areas are much more polluted than others, depending on the severity of fines and upholding of laws. Another problem is, although high fines are associated with being caught dumping, its very hard to be caught dumping. Over the entire span of the ocean, you will have to be within range of a coast guard ship, or other form of authority to be caught dumping plastics. Most companies even realize that a fine once every few years is still cheaper than to safely dispose of trash properly in the same amount of time. This is also realized by MARPOL, and they have created several training sessions and audits to help educate the population and ship masters on the subject.


1996 Protocol to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, 1972


Annex I: Prevention of pollution by oil

Annex II: Control of pollution by noxious liquid substances

Annex III: Prevention of pollution by harmful substances in packaged form

Annex IV: Prevention of pollution by sewage from ships

Annex V: Prevention of pollution by sewage from ships

Annex VI: Previention of Air Pollution for Ships

Chapter XI: Special Measures to Enhance Safety


Facilitation Aspects of Other IMO Forms and Certificates

Flag State Implementation

Greenpeace PVC

How Incinerators Work

International Maritime Organization


Prevention of Pollution by Garbage from Ships

Principles of Incineration

Regulation 9 of Annex V

Special Areas

Voluntary IMO Member State Audit Scheme

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