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The sins of the forefathers

In the old days waste disposal from ships was never a problem; seafarers just followed the example set by the shore-based industry and dumped everything into the sea. The oceans were considered to be so vast and deep that they could swallow it all. As kids we played on sandy beaches and came home with "tar" on our feet. The black substance was difficult to clean off, but it was so common that it was believed to be a natural part of summer and beach life. The black "tar" consisted of washed-up remains from the regular tank cleaning operation of oil tankers. Old sailors will confirm that when they cleaned the cargo tanks on the ballast voyage, washing water and oil went overboard, not necessarily passing the slop tank first. Such tank cleaning operations started just after leaving port.

From the oily bilges of the engine room, water, oil and cleaning chemicals also went straight overboard. Instead of collecting oil in gutters and drip trays and leading it to a waste oil tank, all oil leakages ended up in the bilge wells. Floor plates were washed with diesel oil, dissolving oily deposits; the oil then drained to the bilges and was pumped out. During main engine overhaul in port, drums of oily substances were set aside, to be dumped overboard once at sea. That was then.

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

Improvements by regulations

The situation is much better now and kids no longer get smeared with black "tar" on the beaches. Seagulls and crabs are probably happier too.

In 1964 the oil and shipping industries introduced the "Clean Seas" program, in order to restrict the operational discharge of oil into the sea by the retention of oil residues on board. Due to the tank cleaning operations and the oily ballast water from oil tankers, these ships were the first to be focused upon when the world finally recognised that the oceans could not be an unlimited recipient of waste. The 1969 Amendments to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil, 1954, imposed for the first time a total prohibition of the discharge of any persistent oil from a tanker within 50 miles of any coast.

The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, London, 1973 (MARPOL 1973), imposed a total prohibition of discharge of any oil or oily mixture from oil tankers, including oily water from the pump room bilges, within 50 miles of the nearest land within "special areas", and limited the permissible flow, concentration and quantity of oil discharge elsewhere. The Convention also introduced a prohibition of discharge of oil from the engine room bilges of oil tankers. MARPOL 1973 was followed by the MARPOL 1978 Protocol, dealing with pollution by oil, chemicals in bulk, hazardous goods in packaged form, sewage and garbage from ships. Annex I of the MARPOL Protocol introduced specifications for crude oil washing, segregated ballast tanks, oily water separating equipment, monitoring equipment for concentration of oil discharge into the sea, geographical discharge limitations, the requirements for an Oil Record Book and an International Oil Pollution Prevention (IOPP) Certificate.

The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, London, 1973/78 (MARPOL 73/78) which consists of MARPOL 1973 as modified by the 1978 Protocol, entered into force in 1983 and as a consequence the amount of oil discharged from ships decreased substantially. After the introduction of crude oil washing, segregated ballast tanks and the load on top system, oil tankers no longer pollute more than other vessels, if not involved in accidents. A study by the National Research Council Marine Board of the United States indicated that in 1989 the oil discharges from ships had decreased by 60 per cent from the 1981 calculations. Oil tanker operators had by then largely cleaned up their tank cleaning act. The Chief Engineer of an oil tanker also had the advantage of being able to pump the machinery bilge sludge to the cargo slop tanks.

Bilge water problems

For operators of vessels other than oil tankers, the problem of the oily bilge water from the engine room was not that easy to handle at first. Not all ships had large sludge tank capacity and in many parts of the world the sludge reception facilities were inadequate. A number of contracting States were slow in implementing and/or enforcing MARPOL 73/78, and more than slow in providing reception facilities. Other problems have been to develop oil monitoring equipment that would function with reliability and, for the crew, the lack of training in the MARPOL 73/78 requirements.

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 ship side valve connections disappeared or were blanked off permanently.

2. 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

A useful pre-entry condition survey

Gard customarily carries out pre-entry condition surveys on all vessels above 10 years of age. There is growing consensus that the condition of today’s vessels has generally improved, and in the midst of surveys by Class, Flag and Port State authorities, the usefulness of the Association’s surveys may sometimes be questioned. From time to time, however, the Association proves a point or two, to the benefit of the Member.

During a recent inspection of a 16 year old cargo vessel of 4,000 gross tons which had been recently 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 lub oil pipe, ending up in a blind flange on the delivery side of the main engine stand-by lub oil pump. The four inch pipe had probably once been part of a pipeline to deck, for the purpose of discharging the main engine lub 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 lub oil stand-by pump, the vessel could also, if needed, pump the entire main engine lub 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 the ship side valve was smeared by oil deposits. Strange to think that a number of IOPP surveys have been carried out over the years without detecting such an obvious default. See photos Nos. 1 and 2.

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

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 crew members 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.

The German approach

Various states react differently to MARPOL 73/78 violations, and in Europe the German authorities have been especially strict. Studies have shown that a vessel produces more than one per cent of sludge from the heavy fuel oil bunkered. German inspectors check the Oil Record Book thoroughly and have been known to use the one per cent rule of thumb to calculate how much sludge should be accounted for. Missing sludge quantities, not recorded being used as fuel, burned in the incinerator, stored in sludge tanks on board or discharged to a shore reception facility are considered to have been pumped overboard. The Chief Engineer and the Master are likely to be fined.

Over the last years the Association has experienced several cases of fines issued by German authorities for violations of MARPOL 73/78. In the case of a 100,000 gross tons bulk carrier, calculations showed that the vessel should account for 15 tons of sludge. The Oil Record Book, however, only accounted for two tons, as having been burned in the vessel’s incinerator. An inspection of the bilges showed a very oily mixture and an examination of the vessel’s pipelines revealed the following "secrets":

– The oily water separator was not working.

– The 1.5 cubic metre sludge tank for the incinerator could be emptied through a drain valve to the vessel’s bilges. There were signs of such operations having

taken place.

– A 50 cubic metres bilge water tank, for storing oily water, could be emptied straight overboard by the use of the bilge pump, bypassing the oily water separator.

– The sludge tank of 15 cubic metres capacity could be emptied overboard by the use of the sludge pump or the bilge pump.

– The ship side valve illegally used for the discharge of sludge and oily bilge water, was found disconnected from the pipeline, and padlocked in closed position. Inside the inboard part of the valve, dirty oil was noted. A pipe bend was located that could link the service line to the valve, bypassing the separator. See photos Nos. 3 and 4.

3.The padlocked overboard valve

4. The pipebend allowing the pumping overboard of the sludge tank and the oily ballast water tank.

The German authorities reported the vessel to the Flag authorities and to the Class Society for not having an oily water separator in good order, for having a bilge arrangement bypassing the oily water separator and for storing sludge in the vessel’s bilges. The vessel was put under temporary order of detention on grounds of deficiencies in relation to MARPOL 73/78 requirements, and both the Master and the Engineer were fined. Further fines by the Flag State are expected.

Some good advice

– A copy of MARPOL 73/78 should be kept on board. The crew members should be made fully aware of the regulations.

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

– 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.

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

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

– 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.

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

– 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.

– 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 Association’s Statutes and Rules excludes from cover the Member’s liability for fines resulting from non-compliance with the provisions relating to the construction, adaptation and equipment of ships 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.


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