Rules on garbage tightened

Safe Seas Clean Seas Issue 42, December 2012

New rules restricting the disposal of garbage (or marine debris) from ships, pleasure craft and offshore installations come into force on 1 January 2013, with the aim of cutting the amount of marine pollution.

Most garbage disposed of at sea doesn’t just disappear – marine debris scattered along most coastlines is a small, but visible sign of a much larger problem of garbage in the ocean. Garbage can travel great distances on tides and currents, making it an international pollution issue. Some garbage reaches the sea from land, but garbage discharged from ships also contributes to the problem.

To address this problem, rule changes amend Marine Protection Rule Parts 170 and 200, covering the discharge of garbage from ships and offshore installations, respectively.

The rules put Annex V of MARPOL (the international convention for the prevention of pollution from ships) into New Zealand law. Changes to Annex V tighten limits on disposal of garbage at sea and apply operational requirements (such as the use of placards, garbage management plans and record books) to a wider range of ships and offshore installations.

The main thrust of the regulatory changes is to emphasise a general prohibition on garbage discharges, although a few exceptions remain. The changes align the rules with social expectations about stewardship of the marine environment.

Previously, only plastics were banned from being thrown overboard, but this prohibition has been expanded to include ropes, fishing gear and plastic garbage bags, plastic-derived incinerator ashes, cooking oil, dunnage, lining and packing material that floats, papers, glass, metal, bottles, crockery and similar refuse. The changes will reduce the volume of waste entering the sea, while increasing the volume that is discharged ashore or incinerated on board.

Further restrictions apply to the discharge of food, cargo residues, and water used for washing the deck and external services. Livestock carriers that discharge animal carcasses are also regulated, but there is no extension of these rules to fish or bait discharged during fishing or aquaculture. Food waste rules remain unchanged – food may be discharged if vessels are more than 12 nautical miles from shore or more than 3 nautical miles if the material is ground up.

A key change that may affect recreational boaties in particular, is the prohibition of dumping of water containing cleaning agents or additives that are harmful to the marine environment. It is the responsibility of boat owners to check the content of cleaning products and either contain washwater, so that it doesn’t enter the sea, or use products that are not harmful to the marine environment. Consult product labelling, the safety data sheet that accompanies most chemical substances or retailers about the toxicity of cleaning products.

Cargo residues on solid bulk cargo ships are also now prohibited from discharge if they contain substances that are harmful to the marine environment. Masters must declare whether their cargo is a marine pollutant, although there is a two-year transitional period beginning in January 2013, which allows for testing of cargo so it can be accurately classified.

To ensure crew and passengers understand the garbage handling rules, masters and owners of ships greater that 12 metres in length, and offshore installations, must explain the requirements on placards (signs) that are displayed on board.

Garbage management plans are now required on all vessels greater than 100 gross tons, on vessels that carry 15 or more persons, and on offshore installations. These plans should consider common waste management principles, such as the “reduce, reuse, recycle” approach that is central to waste minimisation strategies used on shore. After minimising what is carried on board, it is important that any remaining garbage is stored securely where it will not be accidentally lost overboard.

Garbage record books have been required on board ships for many years, but the format of these has changed to allow for the collection of better information about garbage. Offshore installations must now also keep track of garbage in record books.

Lost fishing gear must be reported if it poses a significant threat to the marine environment or a navigation hazard. Surveys of fishermen have highlighted that lost fishing gear is frequently encountered, but there is very little data about the scale of this problem, despite the threat it poses to marine life and ship safety.

Reduce waste before you sail, and store and dispose of it appropriately. What you do makes a difference.

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