The maritime industry has always been known to be a major factor in water pollution all around the world. The oceans were treated like a dumpsite for waste produced by ships and with few laws interfering it is easy to see why most companies took shortcuts. Properly disposing of waste and taking proper precautions can be timely and costly for companies whose main goal is to make as large of a profit as possible. The well-being of the sea and animals that live there was not the main priority for these companies who are trying to be as cost-effective as possible.
Since the creation of Marine Pollution (MARPOL) and The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA-90) companies started being held more accountable for their actions. There has been a dramatic improvement in how ships are built and operated since the creation of laws like these that have been implemented in the maritime industry.
Laws involving the regulations that all seagoing vessels must adhere to were mainly created after an incident that ended in a great catastrophe.
On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez was headed to Long Beach when it struck Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef in Alaska spilling 10.8 million US gallons of crude oil. The spill devastated the area and wildlife killing hundreds of thousands of animals to this date, 6 miles of shoreline are still affected by the oil spill. This incident brought a lot of attention to the maritime industry and the lack of regulations that should have been in place to ensure accidents like this never happen and if they do proper procedures are followed to stop as much damage as possible.
OPA-90 was created after this tragic accident to set regulations for ships carrying crude oil and the actions they must follow if a spill were to ever happen again.
While OPA-90 is very important to ensure the transporting of crude oil is done safely there are many dangerous pollutants that it does not cover. This is where MARPOL comes into play, stating all the details for how the waste of any kind needs to be dealt with and what a ship is and is not allowed to throw into the sea, and if so what proper steps they must follow. MARPOL is a combination of the 1973 Convention and the 1978 Protocol, which came into effect in 1983 and is followed by 156 countries that must adhere to their rules for marine pollution. In general, MARPOL is broken up into 6 annexes that deal with different types of pollution going into detail about how they must be dealt with. Without MARPOL many countries and companies would be free to take shortcuts to increase their profits by disposing of waste improperly and not investing the proper funds that help prevent devastating accidents.
OPA-90 is believed to be one of the most important laws created for the maritime industry because without it another Exxon Valdez could be just around the corner. It has set new requirements for vessel construction and crew licensing and manning, mandated oil spill cleanup planning, enhanced the response capacity of the government, increased penalties, and much more. A problem that many laws before OPA-90 had is that they were not harsh enough, not making the penalties high enough to worry the companies about breaking the law. If it saved a company tens of thousands of dollars to improperly dispose of oil and the fines were only half, or even less, the company is still saving money with no interest in stopping. OPA-90 defiantly had an increase in the repercussions that companies would face for breaking the laws that fell under it. In Title 1 of OPA-90, it states that a company can be fined up to 1 billion dollars for oil clean-up and other uncompensated damages. This is just an example of how these new laws are a step up in holding companies accountable for their actions and the first steps towards doing as little damage to the ocean and the animals that live there.
Now none of these conventions are just written up overnight, it can take months sometimes even years with all the information that needs to be added and updated. To this day MARPOL and its annexes are being updated with the first being created in 1983 and the most recent being created in 2005. These 6 annexes break into groups how certain materials must be properly handled and disposed of in great detail so that there is a clear guild line for all governments and companies to follow. Annex 1 covers the “Prevention of pollution by oil & oily water” with the first half covering engine room waste and the secon,d half covering the cleaning of cargo areas and tanks. Annex 1 and OPA-90 have a lot of similarities on how oil is to be dealt with but OPA-90 was created many years later and is seen as the bigger power when it comes to laws involving oil. Annex 2 covers the “Control of pollution by noxious liquid substances in bulk” which goes into detail about the discharge criteria to help prevent pollution of noxious liquids. Annex 3 is over the “Prevention of pollution by harmful substances carried by sea in the packaged form” which tells the standards on marking, packing, stowage, documenting, and other forms to make sure harmful substances are transported as safely as possible. Annex 4 and Annex 5 cover the “Pollution by sewage from ships” and “Pollution by garbage from ships” which put simply specifics what kind of sewage or garbage can be put overboard, and which cannot. It also says what must be done to the sewage or garbage that is thrown overboard whether it talks about the distance from shore, how shredded the materials must be, and other general steps to make sure no sewage or garbage damages the oceans. Annex 6 is the newest annex covering the “Prevention of air pollution from ships” which introduces regulations for air pollution coming from ships and what standard companies must hold their ships to. We as a society find out more every year about the damage we cause to the environment and this is why updating and creating new annexes is important for MARPOL to stay as effective as possible.
Now while the laws that fall under OPA-90 are understood and appreciated by most people not everyone was happy with its creation. Many companies fought the creation of OPA-90 voicing their concerns quite publicly. The companies argued that this act would hinder the free flow in the trade of imported oil in the united states and many companies threatened to boycott United States ports if OPA-90 were to come into effect. The president at the time, George H. W. Bush, received a lot of phone calls asking for his assistance to reduce the effects of OPA-90 and he did share some of the same concerns. The president believed that with the creation of OPA-90 that many large shipping companies would be replaced by smaller ones to avoid liability. He tried to encourage the Senate to make changes to OPA-90 but it went through with relative ease. While many companies were upset some were pleased especially non-profit companies that cleaned up after the Exxon Valdez.
Now when you create these laws there is not just a few powerful people that decide what happens to all things maritime around the world. International Maritime Organization (IMO) will create the standers after being put to a vote, and if the total number of member countries whose combined gross tonnage represents at least 50% of the world’s gross tonnage, these laws will become binding. For the nations who did not take part in the vote, they have a certain amount of time to object if they chose to do so otherwise they are marked as “agreed”. Each country is responsible for enacting domestic laws to implement the convention and effectively pledges to comply with the convention, annexes, and related laws of other nations.