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MARPOL and its affect on yachts


With the recent implementation of yacht inspections by the U.S. Coast Guard, plus the continued efforts being seen by the Paris MOU in Europe, a quick refresher about one of the major maritime regulations is overdue.

The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, most commonly known by its acronym of MARPOL, is the most important of all global treaties established for protecting the marine environment. The original 1973 protocol covered pollution by oil, chemicals and harmful substances in packaged form, sewage and garbage.

Following a series of serious tanker accidents in 1976-1977, a second protocol was adopted in February 1978 and subsequently absorbed the previous Convention. It entered into force on Oct. 2, 1983, and applies to all vessel types. This includes both private and commercial yachts.

The Convention includes strict regulations focused at preventing and minimizing both accidental and operational pollution. The current requirements are outlined in six technical Annexes, each of which is designed to combat a particular class of pollutants. Annexes I and II are mandatory, with the remaining four Annexes voluntary per the discretion of each signatory nation (the flag with which the yacht is registered).

Annex I details the discharge criteria and equipment requirements for the prevention of pollution by oil and oily substances. In addition to the technical guidelines, it contains the designation of “special areas” that are considered to be vulnerable to pollution by oil. Discharges within these areas are completely prohibited, with minor well-defined exceptions.

The use of reception facilities, an oil record book, and survey requirements are also described. Compliance for yachts 400 gross tons and larger is verified through issuance of the International Oil Pollution Prevention (IOPP) Certificate.

Annex II focuses attention on the control of pollution by noxious liquid substances. It has no practical application to today’s yachts.

Annex III contains general requirements for preventing pollution by packaged harmful substances. A main source of reference for compliance with this Annex is the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code. Identical to Annex II, it has no practical application to today’s yachts.

Annex IV originally applied to vessels of 200 gross tons and larger. Before it took force in August 2005, it was revised to affect vessels of 400 gross tons and larger or those that are certified to carry more than 15 persons (guests and crew). All new yachts must be delivered in compliance. Existing yachts were required to comply with the provisions of the revised Annex IV by Sept. 27, 2008.

The Annex requires yachts to be equipped with a sewage treatment plant, a comminuting and disinfecting system, or a holding tank. Discharge into the sea is prohibited, except when the yacht has in operation an approved sewage treatment plant or is discharging comminuted and disinfected sewage using an approved system at a distance of more than three nautical miles; or is discharging sewage, which is not comminuted or disinfected, at a distance of more than 12 nautical miles. Similar to Annex I, “special areas” are also designated. Requirements for standard discharge connections to shore facilities and surveys are also outlined. Compliance is verified through issuance of the International Sewage Pollution Prevention (ISPP) Certificate.

Annex V deals with different types of garbage and specifies the distances from land and the manner in which they may be disposed. The requirements are much stricter in a number of “special areas”, but certainly the most important feature of the Annex is the complete ban imposed on all forms of plastic.

A major component of this Annex is the maintenance of a yacht’s Garbage Management Plan and associated records. There is no specific certificate issued to verify compliance with this Annex.

Annex VI sets limits on sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions from exhausts, and prohibits deliberate emissions of ozone-depleting substances. Similar to the other Annexes, a number of “special areas” are established for increased scrutiny. Incineration onboard of certain products, such as contaminated packaging materials and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), is prohibited. Compliance for yachts 400 gross tons and larger is verified through issuance of the International Air Pollution Prevention (IAPP) Certificate.

These statutory certificates are issued following the requisite survey by the Flag Administration and/or classification society on behalf of the Administration. In the case of inspection by Port State Control, verification is confirmed usually by a random boarding.

Compliance with MARPOL is a major issue for the world’s waterways. This is illustrated by the frequency of concentrated inspection campaigns by Port State Controls, such as the U.S. Coast Guard and Paris MOU countries. While not yet exhibited in the yachting arena, a large number of civil and criminal cases have been seen in the commercial merchant ship industry.

Noncompliance with MARPOL has led to civil fines in the millions of dollars, banning of vessels from certain ports, criminal charges against shipping companies, and even prison time for crew members. It is definitely not a regulation to ignore.

Capt. Jake DesVergers is chief surveyor for International Yacht Bureau ( Comments are welcome at

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