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Loss Prevention Circular No

Loss Prevention Circular No. 07-01

Oily water separation and discharge: 

Discharge of oil prohibited



As part of our overall loss prevention activities, Gard Services regularly monitors port State detentions from the Paris Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), Tokyo MoU and United States Coast Guard (USCG).  In 2000, there was a total of 131 detentions of ships entered in the Gard P&I portfolio. Oily water separation and discharge related items were the single most frequent deficiency cited.  Similar results were also observed in the detention of vessels entered in the Gard Marine portfolio for 2000 (147 detentions and the second most cited deficiency).  We are not satisfied with these figures.  As a result, we believe it is necessary to revisit this issue for Gard Services Members and Clients.


This circular includes updated adaptation of the article "Discharge of oil prohibited", which appeared in Gard News issue No. 152 (December 1998/February 1999) warned against the implications of pumping oil and oily bilge water overboard.  This is the second in a series of circulars produced on this matter.  Gard Services Loss Prevention Circular 06-01 entitled, “Oily water separation and discharge: Risk of oil pollution versus vessel’s safety” also addresses safety and environmental matters related to this subject.  We hope that this circular will assist our Members and Clients in staying vigilant in light of the potential costs of non-compliance with regulations relating to oily water separation and discharge.


Bilge water problems

On vessels in operation before the implementation of MARPOL 73/78, it was customary to pump the oily engine room bilge water straight overboard, even if an oily water separator was installed. Pipe systems were arranged so various pumps could be used as stand-by for each other, interconnected by valves and blind flanged connections. When the engine room pipe systems of existing ships were inspected for compliance with MARPOL 73/78 and issuance of the vessel’s first International Oil Pollution Prevention Certificate, such ‘useful’ connections had to be removed or blinded off. To maintain the possibility of an emergency discharge connection, careful Chief Engineers fitted chains and padlocks to valve handles. With time, illegal shipside valve connections disappeared or were blanked off permanently.


A useful pre-entry condition survey


The oily water separator. "Fine 5000" placard is in place.



During an inspection of a 16 year old cargo vessel of 4,000 GT which had been purchased by one of our Members, we discovered that the water discharge line from the vessel’s oily water separator was joined at the ship side valve by an unmarked pipe which came from the lower part of the engine room. Following the two inch pipeline from the overboard valve, it connected one floor lower down to a four inch lube oil pipe, ending up in a blind flange on the delivery side of the main engine stand-by lube oil pump. The four-inch pipe had probably once been part of a pipeline to deck, for the purpose of discharging the main engine lube oil sump tank to a shore recipient.


From the blind connection at the stand-by oil pump, there was a further branch line to the vessel’s bilge pump and bilge water tank. This vessel could thus pump oily bilge water overboard by bypassing the oily water separator. By removing a blind flange at the main engine lube oil stand-by pump, the vessel could also, if needed, pump the entire main engine lube oil sump tank overboard!



The welding work of the unauthorised pipe connection was crudely carried out so it easily caught a surveyors’ attention. It was definitely not a new installation, and oil deposits smeared the shipside valve. Strange to think that a number of IOPP surveys have been carried out over the years without detecting such an obvious default.


Our Member, who had just purchased the vessel, was thankful for our detecting the by-pass of the separator and the Association was pleased to see it removed immediately. This vessel had been sailing in the West Indies and occasionally visiting US ports. Our Member was to use the vessel in the same area.


A warning outdated

On most vessels inspected, the Association finds that warnings of fines up to USD 5,000 are posted in engine rooms, in crew quarters and on the bridge. Under the US Federal Clean Water Act an owner, operator or person in charge of an onshore or offshore facility could be fined up to USD 5,000 for oil discharged from such facility affecting US waters1. Prudent owners or Masters have obviously used the threat of a USD 5,000 fine as a tool to prevent the crew from discharging oil overboard, and the "Fine 5000" warnings have spread to ships never visiting US waters.


After the entry into force of the United States Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the "Fine 5000" stickers became obsolete, and may mislead the crew in respect of the implications of discharging oil overboard in US waters and elsewhere. Today shipowners not only may carry unlimited responsibility for the clean-up operation and the damage caused by an oil spill in US waters, but are also faced with strict criminal penalties for violations of US law. By spilling oil affecting US water, the offender risks criminal prosecution for spilling the pollutant and for failing to notify the government of the spill. Both individual violators and organisations may be penalised; individuals may even be imprisoned. For negligent violations, the maximum fine is USD 50,000 per day and one year imprisonment2. For "knowing violations"3 the imprisonment may be up to three years.


Under the Alternative Fines Act the maximum fine for an individual is USD 100,000 (negligent) and USD 250,000 (knowingly). For an organisation the fines are doubled. If an individual or an organisation derives pecuniary loss to a third party, the fine will be up to twice the gross gain or loss, which, depending on the circumstances could run to millions.


The text of the new warning


The overboard valve for clean water discharge from the separator. The pipe from the left leads to the main engine sump tank and to the oily bilge water tank.

US regulations require every ship above 26 feet in length to have a placard of at least 5 x 8 inches made of durable material fixed in a conspicuous place in each machinery space, or at the bilge and ballast pump station, with the following message, in a language understood by the crew:


"Discharge of Oil Prohibited

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act prohibits the discharge of oil or oily waste into or upon the navigable waters of the United States, or the waters of the contiguous zone, or which may affect natural resources belonging to, appertaining to, or under the exclusive management authority of the United States, if such discharge causes a film or discoloration of the surface of the water or causes a sludge or emulsion beneath the surface of the water. Violators are subject to substantial civil penalties and/or criminal sanctions including fines and imprisonment."


Old warning-placards may be left in place, but new ones should be added and all crewmembers should be informed that the time of a maximum USD 5,000 fine is now history. There should be no excuse for not using the new placard, as it may be obtained easily through shipchandlers.


Some good advice

1.    A copy of MARPOL 73/78 should be kept on board. The crewmembers should be made fully aware of the regulations.

2.    Ensure the vessel has a valid IOPP certificate at all times.

3.    The Oil Record Book must be correctly filled in. port State inspectors will inspect the book and may check the vessel’s sludge tanks. If the vessel has no sludge on board and has no record of delivery, the Master and Chief Engineer are likely to be fined.

4.    The oily water separator installed on board must be of an approved type and function well.

5.    The oil content meter, the monitoring device and the alarm/automatic-stopping device must function correctly.

6.    When purchasing a second hand vessel, visually check all lines from sludge and oily bilge water tanks to verify that no oily bilge water line or sludge line may discharge directly overboard. If one such connection is found, remove it immediately. If in doubt, consult the vessel’s Classification Society.

7.    The placard with warning against the discharge of oil overboard must reflect the true penalty situation faced by the crew and operator.

8.    Reduce the oil leakages to the bilges by collecting oil in drip trays and gutters leading to a waste oil tank. Be sure the drain pipes from the gutters are not clogged by deposits and rags.

9.    Oil sludge from engine rooms is not to be pumped overboard. If not disposed of in an incinerator, the oil must be contained on board until discharged to shore-based reception facilities.


P&I Cover

Members should be aware that Rule 47 of the Associations Rules does not include cover for the Member's liability for fines resulting from non-compliance with the provisions contained in MARPOL 73/78.



1 It seems to be less known that the same Act allowed fines up to USD 250,000 for discharges being a result of negligence or wilful misconduct.


2 The fine is composed of a mandatory civil penalty for up to USD 25,000 per day of violation or USD 1,000 per barrel discharged, and a further USD 25,000 a day or three times the costs incurred by the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, for failing to clean up. Two years imprisonment for a negligent violation may occur if it is the second or subsequent offence.


3 "Knowing" requires only general intent, not specific intent to violate the law.