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Examples of Instruments on Marine Litter

This section presents examples of instruments at international, regional and national levels to illustrate the current regulation and management of marine litter.

International Instruments

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

The UNCLOS is one of the most important agreements related to the use of the oceans. The convention entered into force in 1994 and comprises 320 articles and nine annexes. It established a comprehensive regime for the law of the sea by governing all aspects of the oceans from geopolitical delimitations to environmental control, scientific research, economic and commercial activities, technology and the settlement of disputes relating to ocean matters (Roberts 2010). In particular, articles 192–237 of Part XII are dedicated to the protection and preservation of the marine environment. While the provisions do not explicitly refer to marine litter, they place a general obligation on states to protect and preserve the marine environment, which can be used in the context of marine litter regulation.

Annex V of MARPOL 73/78

Annex V of MARPOL 73/78 is the major international instrument addressing ocean-based litter pollution from ships and was developed under the auspices of the international Maritime Organization (IMO). Annex V was recently revised in 2011 and came into force in 2013. The revised Annex V provides an updated framework for the control of garbage generated by ships. It imposes a general ban on discharges of all garbage from ships at sea, except for a few clearly defined circumstances.7 These circumstances are associated with the types of garbage that can be disposed of, specifications of the distances from the coast, discharge of garbage within or outside special areas,8 the manner in which they may be disposed of, and en route requirements for allowable discharge.9 The updated disposal regulations are summarized in Table 15.1. Other major changes include expanding the requirements for placards and garbage management plans to fixed and floating platforms,10 and reduction of the minimum tonnage limit for garbage management plans from 400 gross tonnage (GT) to 100 GT.11

Major provisions remaining unchanged include: the obligation to provide a Garbage Record Book (GRB) for ships ≥400 GT or ships certified to carry ≥15 persons,12 and the provision of adequate reception facilities at ports without causing undue delay to ships.13 A GRB is to record each discharge made at sea or a reception facility, or a completed incineration, including date, time, ship position, category of the garbage and the estimated amount discharged or incinerated.14 The GRB is subject to inspection by the competent authority of a party to MARPOL 73/78 when the ship is in port.15

London Protocol

The London Protocol (LP) is a major instrument dealing with dumping of wastes and other matter at sea. The discharge of garbage during normal operations as regulated in the Annex V of MARPOL 73/78 is not considered as dumping.16 In 1996, the protocol was adopted to further modernize the 1972 London Convention17 and eventually replace it. The protocol entered into force in 2006. While the goal of the 1972 convention is to regulate pollution by dumping, the goal of the Protocol is to stop waste dumping at sea (Louka 2006). Namely, the protocol is more restrictive in regulating wastes dumping than the 1972 convention by introducing a reverse listing approach. This approach is, in essence, to prohibit the dumping of any wastes or other matter except for the materials listed in Annex

I.18 Dumping of these materials (such as dredged material, sewage sludge, fish wastes, vessels and platforms, inert, inorganic geological material) requires a permit and parties shall adopt measures to ensure that the issuance of permits and permit conditions comply with Annex II.19 In addition, the protocol prohibits incineration of wastes at sea and the export of wastes to countries for dumping or

Table 15.1 Summary of discharge provisions of the revised MARPOL Annex V

Type of garbage

Ships outside special areasa

Ships within special areasa

Offshore platforms and all ships within 500 m of such platforms

Food wastes comminuted or groundb

Discharge permitted ≥3 nm from the nearest land and en route

Discharge permitted ≥12 nm from the nearest land and en route

Discharge permitted ≥12 nm from the nearest land

Food wastes not comminuted or ground

Discharge permitted ≥12 nm from the nearest land and en route

Discharge prohibited

Discharged prohibited

Cargo residuesc not contained in wash water

Discharge permitted ≥12 nm from the nearest land and en route

Discharge prohibited

Discharge prohibited

Cargo residuesc contained in wash water

Discharge only permitted in specific circumstancesd and ≥12 nm from the nearest land and en route

Discharge prohibited

Cleaning agents and additivesc contained in cargo hold wash water

Discharge permitted

Discharge only permitted in specific circumstancesd and ≥12 nm from the nearest land and en route

Discharge prohibited

Cleaning agents and additivesc contained in deck and external surfaces wash water

Discharge permitted

Discharge prohibited

Animal carcasses

Discharge permitted as far from the nearest land as possible and en route

Discharge prohibited

Discharge prohibited

All other garbage including plastics, domestic wastes, cooking oil, incinerator

ashes, operational wastes, and fishing gear

Discharge prohibited

Discharge prohibited

Discharge prohibited

Mixed garbage

When garbage is mixed with or contaminated by other substances prohibited from discharge or having different discharge requirements, the more stringent requirements shall apply

Source Resolution MEPC.201(62) Amendments to the Annex of MARPOL 73/78 (entered into force on 1 January 2013)


aAccording to reg. 1.14, special areas are the Mediterranean Sea area, the Baltic Sea area, the Black Sea area, the Red Sea area, the Gulfs area, the North Sea area, the Antarctica area and the Wider Caribbean Region

bAccording to reg. 4.1.1, 5.2, 6.1.1, comminuted or ground food wastes shall be capable of passing through a screen with openings no greater than 25 mm

cThese substances must not be harmful to the marine environment

dAccording to reg. 6.1.2, the discharge shall only be allowed if: (a) both the port of departure and the next port of destination are within the special area and the ship will not transit outside the special area between these ports; and (b) if no adequate reception facilities are available at those ports

incineration at sea.20 The protocol is to supersede the convention for the state parties that ratified it and will eventually replace the convention as more and more parties ratify.

Action Plan on Tackling the Inadequacy of PRFs

In 2006, the Marine Environment Protection Committee of the IMO approved the Action Plan on tackling the inadequacy of PRFs. The plan was developed to contribute to the effective implementation of MARPOL 73/78 and to promote quality and environmental consciousness among administrations and the shipping industry. It covers standardized reporting, information on PRFs, equipment technology, types and amount of wastes, regulatory matters, technical cooperation and assistance.21

UNEP Regional Sea Programme

The UNEP Regional Sea Programme and Global Programme of Action (GPA22) embarked in 2003 on the development of a Global Initiative on Marine Litter. This initiative has succeeded in organizing and implementing regional activities on marine litter around the world. Activities focusing on managing marine litter were arranged through individual agreements in 12 Regional Seas.23 The main activities include: a review and assessment of the status of marine litter in the region, organization of a regional meeting of national authorities and experts on marine litter, preparation of a regional action plan for the management of marine litter, and participation in a regional cleanup day within the framework of the International Coastal Cleanup Campaign.24 This regional initiative also provides a platform for the establishment of partnerships, cooperation and coordination of activities for the control and sustainable management of marine litter. The main partners include Regional Sea Conventions and Action Plans, government representatives, UN agencies, relevant bodies, donor agencies, the private sector and NGOs (UNEP 2009).

UNEP/IOC Guidelines on Surveying and Monitoring of Marine Litter

The UNEP developed, in cooperation with the intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), guidelines on surveying and monitoring of marine litter in order to provide a long-term platform for scientific monitoring. Four sets of operational guidelines were developed: comprehensive assessments of beach, benthic and floating litter, and rapid assessments of beach litter. The first three sets target the collection of highly resolved data to support the development and/or evaluation of mitigation strategies, while the last aims to raise public awareness of and educate about marine litter issues (Cheshire et al. 2009).

UNEP Guidelines on the Use of Market-Based and Economic Instruments

The UNEP developed guidelines on the use of market-based and economic instruments. This report serves as a practical reference to decision makers on how to select, apply and implement related economic tools. Tools include deposit-refund programs on plastic and glass bottles, plastic bag tax, incentives to fishers for reporting and removing debris, subsidies, tourist taxes, car park fees, and waterfront business charges (Ten Brink et al. 2009; Newman et al. 2015).

UNEP/FAO Abandoned, Lost or Otherwise Discarded Fishing Gear

A report commissioned by the UNEP and Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) identified reasons for fishing gear being abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded, reviewed existing measures to reduce derelict fishing gear, and proposed recommendations for future action (Macfadyen et al. 2009). A variety of existing measures have been presented, including gear marking, port-state measures,25 onshore collection, payment for retrieved gear, better locating and reporting lost gear, disposal and recycling, and awareness raising schemes.

Honolulu Strategy

The UNEP and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) co-organized the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference in 2011, where the Honolulu Strategy was formulated. This strategy can be regarded as a global framework on possible actions to combat marine litter. It contains three goals, 19 strategies and numerous specifi actions, serving as a useful and practical reference for concerned parties to take actions at national levels (UNEP/NOAA 2011).

UNEP Global Partnership of Marine Litter

The most recent initiative was to establish a Global Partnership of Marine Litter (GPML) in June 2012 by the UNEP. The GPML builds on the Honolulu Strategy. It is a global partnership, acting as a “coordinating forum” for all stakeholders (international, regional, national and local organizations) working in the area of marine litter prevention and management. The forum assists stakeholders to complement each other's efforts, to avoid duplication and to optimize the efficiency and efficacy of their resources.26

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