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Seminars Increase Awareness of Need to Protect Caribbean Sea from Pollution

Caribbean Countries may be one step closer to having stricter pollution prevention measures in place to protect the Caribbean Sea from pollution by garbage from ships. This was the feeling following the successful completion of five seminars aimed at the ratification and implementation of Annex V of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL 73/78). 

MARPOL Annex V provides guidelines and regulations for the discharge of garbage for ships at sea and in national ports.  The five pollution prevention seminars took place from November 12 to 22, on board the M/V Freewinds, during its port visits to Saint Lucia, Barbados, Dominica, Saint Kitts and Antigua.

Stevenson King, Prime Minister of Saint Lucia, opened the first of the seminars, stating "We, the people, in as much as we continue to promote our country as paradise, must also ensure that in the promotion of paradise, we protect our environment, and not only the land, but also the sea."

According to Commander Curtis Roach, IMO’s Regional Maritime Adviser for the Caribbean, the Caribbean Sea was designated a “Special Area” under Annex V of MARPOL 73/78 because of its high vulnerability to the impact of pollution and its economic importance to the countries of the Wider Caribbean. When this designation enters into force, it would prohibit dumping of all garbage by ships into the Caribbean Sea. 

At the moment, it is legal according to international law to dispose of garbage in the oceans, based on different categories of waste in relation to the distance from land. For example, if a particular size of ship is 12 to 25 miles away from land, they are allowed to dump food waste, rags, and paper into the ocean, because within a year those things can dissolve. Plastic is never allowed to be dumped.

Despite the effort by many countries to put required measures in place, Roach reported that “the majority of countries in the Wider Caribbean Region had not yet submitted information to IMO on the state of their respective ship-reception facilities.”  This information is required for IMO to make an assessment of the status of such facilities throughout the region, and to enable the Special Area designation to be formally put into effect and be enforced. 

The Seminars were organized by the Regional Activity Center/Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Information and Training Center for the Wider Caribbean Region (RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe) based in Curacao in coordination with the M/V Freewinds. Technical support was provided by experts from the IMO – Mr. Jeff Ramos and Mr. Herbert Silonero and the United Nations Environment Program through its Caribbean Environment Program (UNEP-CEP) – Mr. Chris Corbin.  

Thomas Smith, Director of RAC/REMPEITC-Caribe outlined that the seminars were very well supported with a total of over 850 participants attending in the five countries.  “The national seminars provided an excellent opportunity for national policy makers, environmental officials, maritime administrators, waste management authorities, non-governmental organizations, and local school students to discuss some of the current pollution challenges in the region and the threat of emerging issues such as the impact of invasive species to the Caribbean.”
 
Participants from governmental and civil society organizations identified several areas of concern, including the need for improved solid and liquid waste management, the importance of public education and awareness of environmental issues, and implementing additional protective measures to reduce negative impacts from industrial activities such as quarrying and mining.

Workshop participants further recognized the increasing demands being placed on the region’s natural terrestrial and marine resources from tourism and considered that protection of these resources be given high national and regional priority in order to sustain future economic and social development.
Participants also agreed to adopt a more coordinated approach to implement national obligations of relevant multilateral environmental agreements and to address outstanding maritime and marine pollution control issues.

It is expected that the output from these seminars will be fully disseminated to all the countries of the Wider Caribbean region to enable them to take action to bring the MARPOL Annex V “Special Area” designation into force.  Mike Napier, Captain of the MV Freewinds, expressed his satisfaction with the results and outputs of the five national seminars which were "the culmination of months of collaborative effort between international, regional and local governmental agencies."

Source: M/V Freewinds

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