About the major laws governing pollution

man walking up steps to courthouse

In the last few years, seafarers entering United States waters have encountered vigorous and frequent investigations and prosecutions of environmental crimes and related offenses. These prosecutions usually involve a charge of deliberate discharge of oil by someone (or multiple people) aboard the vessel. More often, officials bring charges against persons who tried to cover up the action through false record book entries.

A variety of reasons can lead to the belief that violating a law might not be a bad idea: saving time, saving money for the company, or saving a job (because of an order from a superior). But generally a violation has the opposite effect, leading to large fines for the company and seafarers, long trials and possible jail time.

While most seafarers behave honorably throughout the course of their employment, it is critical for all seafarers to understand the importance of protecting the marine environment, the United States’ laws that govern pollution offenses and the consequences of violating those laws. Seafarers may also find themselves serving as witnesses in pollution cases, possibly having to stay in the U.S. until they can give their testimony.

no plastic in the water!Several important statutes in the United States regulate marine pollution. The U.S. has ratified a number of international conventions you may already be familiar with, such as MARPOL1. Other laws exist that you may not know of but still need to follow while in U.S. waters.

waste examples in cansSeafarers encounter many different types of waste during the course of their work, all of which they must dispose of according to national and international laws and regulations. For further information, SCI’s The Importance of Protecting the Marine Environment explains more about the types of pollution and the ways pollution from shipping impacts the environment.

1 MARPOL is the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. It specifies standards for stowing, handling, shipping, and transferring pollutant cargoes, as well as standards for discharging of ship-generated wastes. Annexes to the MARPOL Convention set out regulations covering the various sources of ship-generated pollution. Annex I and II are mandatory for all signatories to MARPOL. Annexes III, IV and V are considered optional. The five annexes are: Annex I — Regulations for the Prevention of Pollution by Oil; Annex II — Regulations for the Prevention of Pollution by Noxious Liquid Substances (NLS); Annex III — Regulations for the Prevention of Pollution by Harmful Substances in Packaged Forms; Annex IV — Regulations for the Prevention of Pollution by Sewage; and Annex V — Regulations for the Prevention of Pollution by Garbage.