Environmental Technology

Controlling, spills, waste and exhaust emissions

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

08 November 2018

Controlling, spills, waste and exhaust emissions

Shipping is not alone in having an effect on the marine environment. All around the globe vast amounts of waste of all types find their way to the sea. From farming runoff into rivers through garbage from fishing and leisure use of the sea and coastal lands to sewage outflows from cities and towns, it is likely that far more damage is done to the marine environment by non-shipping activities than anything commercial ships are responsible for.

The latest threat of plastic. whether it comes from microbeads used by cosmetics manufacturers, plastic bags or other synthetic materials used for all manner of reasons, found in increasing quantities in the world’s oceans is certainly not related to shipping alone but because plastic is found at sea it is shipping that gets an unfair proportion of the blame. Regulating shipping’s environmental impact is quite a modern development and less than sixty years have passed since the first global regulations became effective. Until then, there may have been local rules in individual ports but as those who can remember visiting harbours before the clean up began in earnest in the 1980’s can testify, whatever rules may have been in place they appeared to have been universally ignored.

Even before ships had engines they had the potential to impact on the environment. As well as the alien species that hitched a ride on ships whether in the ship, in the cargo or under the hull, there was the waste produced by the crew and passenger on board and occasionally a cargo that needed to be dumped at sea.

It is generally accepted that oils and greases are the most pervasive and polluting by products of shipping activity. The advent of mechanically propelled ships has increased the level of oily waste and with no regulation barring it, that waste was regularly dumped at sea. Although steam ships also produced waste oil in quantities, the problem was initially only recognised quite early on after the first diesel engine was used in 1912. But it was the increase in crude oil transport and the consequent disposal of tanks washings at sea that was the spur for the first regulations prohibiting disposal of oil.

That was not to be until The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil (OILPOL) was formulated at London in 1954. The 1954 Convention came into force in 1958 and was amended in 1962, 1969 and 1971. It was eventually superseded by the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) and its measures are now included there.

OILPOL did not put a complete ban on disposal at sea and merely prohibited the dumping of oily wastes within a certain distance from land and in ‘special areas’ where the danger to the environment was especially acute. It also imposed a requirement for contracting parties to provide reception facilities but, more than half a century on, the lack of facilities is still a bone of contention for the industry. OILPOL was mainly concerned with operational discharges as was the 1973 version of MARPOL drawn up by the IMO.

This was to be amended by the Protocol of 1978 adopted in response to a spate of tanker accidents in 1976-1977. As the 1973 MARPOL Convention had not yet entered into force, the 1978 MARPOL Protocol absorbed the parent Convention. The combined instrument entered into force on 2 October 1983.

In 1997, a Protocol was adopted to amend the Convention and a new Annex VI was added which entered into force on 19 May 2005. MARPOL has been updated by amendments through the years. Most of the measures in MARPOL are the province of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) which is also entrusted with the development of other environmental conventions.