MARPOL 73/78 is one of the most important international marine environmental conventions. It is the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, and is the international treaty regulating disposal of waste generated by the normal operation of vessels. The original MARPOL Convention was signed on February 17, 1973, but did not come into force. The current Convention is a combination of the 1973 Convention and the 1978 Protocol. Therefore, the convention was formed a result of the combination of two treaties adopted in 1973 and 1978 respectively and thus the name MARPOL 73/78. (“MARPOL” is short for marine pollution and “73/78” is short for the years 1973 and 1978.) MARPOL 73/78 became effective on October 2, 1983.
MARPOL 73/78 aims to minimize pollution of the seas, including dumping, oil and exhaust pollution. Its stated object is “to preserve the marine environment through the complete elimination of pollution by oil and other harmful substances and the minimization of accidental discharge of such substances.”
All countries that are signatories to MARPOL 73/78 are bound to follow its requirements, regardless of where their ships sail, and they are also responsible for vessels registered under their respective nationalities.
The Convention includes regulations aimed at preventing and minimizing pollution from ships – both accidental pollution and that from routine operations. MARPOL contains 20 Articles and 6 annexes. The areas covered by each Annex is as follows:
Annex I – Regulations for the prevention of pollution by oil;
Annex II – Regulations for the control of pollution by noxious liquid substances in bulk;
Annex III – Prevention of pollution by harmful Substances Carried by Sea in Packaged Form;
Annex IV – Prevention of Pollution by Sewage from Ships;
Annex V – Prevention of Pollution by Garbage from Ships; and
Annex VI – Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships
A state that becomes party to MARPOL 73/78 must mandatorily accept Annex I and II. However, Annexes III to VI are voluntary annexes. MARPOL 73/78 was implemented in the United States by the “Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships,” under the lead of the United States Coast Guard. The United States had accepted Annexes I, II, III and V. However, it is yet to accept Annexes IV and VI.