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Marine Pollution from Ships

The Marine Pollution Act 19861 gives legislative force to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. The Act makes it a criminal offence to contravene any provision of the Convention – not only the person who commits the deed in question, but also the owner and the master of the ship in question are guilty.2

Complicated and technical provisions, which are beyond the scope of this book, apply to the prevention of pollution by oil and oily mixtures. However, there are more straightforward provisions as well.

A ‘ship’ means a vessel of any type operating in the marine environment (and includes fixed or floating platforms).3

A. Incidents

  1. The Master or other person in charge of any ship, must report to the authority of the nearest coastal state, without delay and to the fullest extent possible, any incident involving:
    • a discharge (or probable discharge) above the permitted level of oil4 or of noxious liquid substances;5 or
    • a discharge or probable discharge of harmful substances in packaged form, including in containers, tanks, vehicles and barges; or
    • damage, failure or breakdown of a ship of 15 metres or longer which affects the safety of the ship or its navigation; or
    • a discharge during the operation of the ship of oil or noxious liquid substances in excess of the quantity or rate permitted under the Convention.6

    The report must include the:

    • identity of ships involved;
    • time, type and location of incident;
    • quantity and type of harmful substance involved;
    • assistance and salvage measures.7

    It is a criminal offence to fail in any of these reporting obligations.

  2. Any person who is obliged to send a report must, as necessary, supplement the initial report, provide information concerning further developments, and comply as fully as possible with requests from affected States for additional information.8 It is a criminal offence to fail to comply with any of these obligations.

B. Pollution by garbage from ships

  1. Except if accidental, or it is necessary to secure the safety of the ship, or of those on board, or to save life at sea, it is a criminal offence to dispose into the sea:9
    • all plastics, including but not limited to, synthetic ropes, synthetic fishing nets and plastic garbage bags;
    • dunnage,10 lining and packing materials closer than 25 nautical miles11 to the nearest land;
    • food waste12 and all other garbage including paper products, rags, glass, metal, bottles, crockery and similar refuse closer than 12 nautical miles;13
  2. It is an offence to dispose of any of the garbage mentioned above from fixed or floating platforms engaged in the exploration, exploitation or offshore processing of seabed mineral resources.14

  3. It is also an offence to dispose of such garbage from all other ships within 500 metres of such platforms.15
  1. As amended; the latest amendment was effected by Act 58 of 1998. 

  2. Section 3A(1). 

  3. Section 1. 

  4. As defined in the Convention. 

  5. As defined in the Convention. 

  6. Article 1 and article 2 of Protocol 1 to the Convention read with section 3A(1). 

  7. Article 3 of Protocol 1 to the Convention. 

  8. Article IV of Protocol I to the Convention read with section 3A(1). 

  9. Regulation 3(1) or Annex V to the Convention read with Regulations 4, 5 and 6 of Annex V to the Convention. 

  10. Mats, etc. stored under cargo to prevent wetting or chafing. 

  11. That is, approximately 46 kilometres. 

  12. This does not include fresh fish or parts thereof. 

  13. Approximately 22 kilometres. If this garbage is comminuted, that is ground up, it may be disposed of; but not closer than 3 nautical miles (i.e. 5.5 kilometres) to the nearest land. 

  14. Regulation 4(1) or Annex V to the Convention. 

  15. Regulation 4(1) or Annex V to the Convention.