Don't Trash the Med

20 March 2009 By Richard Boggs

The April issue of Dockwalk magazine focuses on the topic of wastewater treatment and the increasingly stringent discharge requirements. Here, Richard Boggs expounds on the new wastewater regulations coming into effect this upcoming Med season.

Starting May 1, 2009, it will be illegal to dump garbage into the Mediterranean Sea. Nearly 36 years after the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted Annex V of MARPOL, the discharge requirements for the “Mediterranean Sea area” (a Special Area under MARPOL Annex V will take effect.

Special areas are bodies of water which require additional protections beyond the normal discharge requirements. A “special area” is defined by IMO as an area where “for recognized technical reasons in relation to its oceanographic and ecological condition and to the particular character of its traffic, the adoption of special mandatory methods for the prevention of sea pollution by oil, NLSs, or garbage is required.”

It will be illegal to dump any plastics and all other garbage, including paper products, rags, glass metal, bottles or crockery. This means that some of the items previously thought to be harmless or biodegradable can no longer be routinely tossed over the side.

Food waste can still be dumped but the new regulation follows the sewage discharge guidelines and restricts dumping to no closer to shore than 12 miles.

MARPOL Annex IV Prevention of Pollution by Sewage from Ships has a few new revisions that apply to yachts operating in the Med this season as well. The revisions apply to ships of 400 gross tons or greater or are certified to carry more than 15 persons –the operative word is “persons,” that means crew are counted, not just guests. The new rules bring the Mediterranean in line with U.S. regulations; subject vessels must be equipped with an approved sewage treatment plant, a comminuting and disinfecting system or a sewage holding tank.

Discharge of sewage within three nautical miles from land is prohibited unless through an approved treatment plant. Beyond three nautical miles it is legal to discharge comminuted and disinfected sewage. Beyond 12 nautical miles it is legal to discharge the blackwater tank or to bypass the sewage treatment plant and dump directly overboard.

But, there are a few catches and the prudent captain and chief engineer should be prepared to prove they are in compliance with the new rules. Port State authorities can require you to prove that the discharge from an approved sewage treatment system meets standards. There are kits available for onboard monitoring of system efficiency and the results can be documented as evidence of effective treatment.

Documentation of the yacht’s practices and procedures is the best defense against allegations of violating the new rules. Keep logs to show what was pumped when and where, and get receipts for garbage discharged to approved shore facilities.

Sewage test kits (also supply potable water testing kits)