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Increased scrutiny of shipboard waste management requires a proactive management approach.

Most in the maritime world are now familiar with the staggering fines imposed in the United States on ship operators for intentional discharges of oily waste in violation of Marpol. Other countries, for example France and Norway, have also levied jaw-dropping penalties for such practices. Authorities in Europe and North America routinely use aerial surveillance to detect dumping of oily waste. Canada has stepped up aerial surveillance and recently announced new technology said to be able to detect an oily wake at night and in low cloud cover. In addition to increasing the level of its own fines, Canada co-operates with the United States in reporting suspected violators headed from Canadian to US waters. The more sophisticated technology and more focused inspections continue to uncover violations.

Waste management practices
An important recurring theme in US oily water separator cases prosecuted by the Environmental Crimes Section of the United States Justice Department is the focus on the company waste management practices. The expectation is that the vessel owner or operator has taken environmental compliance as a top management priority and incorporated compliance routines and safeguards within the ships’ ISM procedures, including a system for auditing compliance and disciplining those found to have violated the company policy. Failing such a showing, the company is often held vicariously liable for the acts of the crew, even if non-compliance was otherwise in violation of well-known company policy.

Waste management does not stop at oily water: it is increasingly clear that waste management in the eyes of the US authorities includes plastics and other ship-generated waste subject to Marpol. The Marine Debris Research, Prevention and Reduction Act, signed by President Bush in December 2006, signals a commitment to identify sources of harmful marine debris, including garbage dumped from ships. The United States Coast Guard (USCG) is instructed to “take actions to reduce violations of and improve implementation of Marpol Annex V”, which provides restrictions and requirements for discharge of vessel garbage and prohibits dumping of plastics altogether. The USCG is to “develop and implement a plan, in co-ordination with industry, to improve shipboard waste management, including record-keeping and access to waste reception facilities for shipboard waste”.

Marpol is one of the most widely-adopted international conventions. According to IMO statistics, Annex I, dealing with oil, and Annex V, dealing with garbage, apply to well over 95 per cent of the world’s tonnage.1 All vessels should be compliant with Marpol wherever they trade. With respect to ships that call to the United States, non-compliance will be treated seriously and harshly. Vessel operators are thus well advised to consider waste stream management as a top management priority.

1 Tables showing the status of IMO conventions, including a breakdown by country, are available on the IMO website at www.imo.org.

Gard News 186, May/July 2007

Any comments to this article can be e-mailed to the Gard News Editor.

Gard News is published quarterly by Gard AS, Arendal, Norway.