More restrictive rules on marine dumping come into force

Dumping waste at sea will officially become illegal under international maritime law on March 24, when the 1996 Protocol to the Convention on the Prevention of Maritime Pollution comes into force.

So far, under the 1972 London Convention that preceded the 1996 Protocol, dumping was legal with the exception of materials included on a “black list”.

With the 1996 convention, the approach will now be reversed: dumping will be illegal, with the exception of specified materials that are allowed, including dredged material, sewage sludge and fish waste.

The protocol will come into force 30 days after Mexico ratified, becoming the 26th country to do so.

“Now that the requisite number of ratifications has been received, the 1996 protocol will enter into force, thus achieving another major milestone for the marine environment,” said International Marine Organisation Secretary-General Efthimos E. Mitropoulos.

“The application of the Protocol’s precautionary approach will have a significant impact on the protection of the marine environment from dumping at sea,” he said.

As well as being more explicit as to what is not allowed, the protocol has a wider geaographical reach than its predecessor, including the abandonment or toppling of offshore structures and the “storage of wastes in the seabed”.

The prospect of CO2 capture and storage in sub-seabed geological structures will, in fact, be one the first issues to be discussed by signatory states when they meet in October.

A transition period of up to five years will follow the protocol’s coming into force, allowing states to adjust to the changes.

Materials that can be dumped under the new legislation, listed in Annex 1 to the 1996 Protocol, include:

· Dredged material

· Sewage sludge

· Fish waste, or material resulting from industrial fish processing operations

· Vessels and platforms or other man-made structures at sea

· Inert, inorganic geological material

· Organic material of natural origin

· Bulky items primarily comprising iron, steel, concrete and similar harmless materials, for which the concern is physical impact, and limited to those circumstances where such wastes are generated at locations, such as small islands with isolated communities, having no practicable access to disposal options other than dumping.

By Goska Romanowicz

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