Trash gyres. We have all seen photographs of these mid-ocean islands of plastic waste and other detritus that float on our planet’s oceans. Although these ocean garbage patches were first discovered in 1997, they are the result of decades of treating our rivers and oceans as giant dustbins. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch was predicted in 1988, which is the same year that MARPOL Annex V came into force.
The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, better known as MARPOL (Marine Pollution), is the result of the efforts of the Marine Environment Protection Committee of the International Maritime Organization. Annex V of this treaty specifically deals with garbage from ships. The original version of this annex banned the disposal of plastics anywhere at sea and limited the dumping of trash from vessels in coastal waters and other protected areas. It was a good start, but it didn’t stem the tide of trash. More work was needed to address sea-based sources of marine debris, and in 2006, the United Nations General Assembly asked the IMO to take action.
The realization of this endeavor, called the “Revised MARPOL Annex V”, went into effect January 1, 2013. If you missed that event, it was probably because it was inaugurated without much fanfare: a letter from the USCG Commandant and a Marine Information Note from the MCA. These new rules contain stricter garbage disposal guidelines for all vessels on all oceans, gulfs, bays and seas.
As it happens, the two most popular cruising areas for both superyachts and live aboard sailboats are now recognized as special areas where “special mandatory methods for prevention of sea pollution by garbage is required.” These two cruising grounds are the Mediterranean Sea and what is now designated as the Wider Caribbean Region. This new Caribbean zone includes the Gulf of Mexico, the Straits of Florida, the Atlantic Ocean south and east of St. Augustine, the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and the entire Caribbean Sea.
Which types of garbage can be tossed overboard in our favorite areas to cruise? Not much. Plastics, synthetic rope, fishing gear, plastic garbage bags, cooking oil, paper, cardboard, rags, glass, metal bottles and crockery are all prohibited. Throwing food waste overboard is also prohibited unless it is ground down and can pass through a screen with openings no greater than 25 mm. Then this comminuted food waste may only be discharged a minimum of 12 nautical miles from the nearest land while the vessel is en route. Even though these ground food particles can legally be discharged relatively close to shore, the MEPC also suggests the discharge should occur as far from shore as possible, and be spread over as wide an area as possible in waters 50 meters or deeper.
Washing down the deck and topsides of your yacht? The cleaning agents you use can be rinsed into the sea as long as they are not harmful to the marine environment. “Harmful” is defined as any cleaning product that contains a chemical which is known to cause cancer, induce biological mutation, interfere with fertility or is classified as a marine pollutant. Unfortunately for the deck crew on yachts, there is no list of acceptable cleaning products by brand name. It is advisable to work closely with a reputable ship chandler to ferret out the cleaning agents that meet these stringent requirements.
What is the goal of the Revised MARPOL Annex V when it comes to your yacht? Very simply to reduce, recycle, compact, store and bring garbage ashore to “port reception facilities.” Minimize your yacht’s waste stream by not taking materials onboard that will later become garbage. For example, remove excess packaging from provisions and products used on board before you leave the dock and dispose of them ashore. Set up a recycling program aboard your yacht with proper sorting receptacles. Use trash compactors, when possible, and make sure there is ample stowage space for garbage onboard.
Adequate port garbage facilities will be a challenge for many small Caribbean islands. Their governments will have to develop modern methods for processing, recycling, treating and disposing the garbage brought ashore from yachts and other ships.
Most importantly, to implement these new guidelines, the IMO recognizes the value of training, education and information. Specifically needed are training and education developed for seafarers, and information produced for recreational sailors, fisherman, coastal communities, yacht builders, garbage management industries, marinas and port operators.
The MEPC guidelines for implementing Annex V state, “Governments are encouraged to amend their maritime certification examinations and requirements, as appropriate, to include a knowledge of duties imposed by national and international law regarding the control of pollution of the sea by garbage.”
We are on the front lines. All of us in the yachting industry must do our parts to keep our seas clean for future generations, so they too may enjoy the recreational and employment benefits of our oceans.
Capt. Jeff Werner is a Senior Instructor with International Crew Training in Ft. Lauderdale, and is a 22 year veteran of the yachting industry.