Regulations for the prevention of pollution by garbage from ships are set out in Annex V of the MARPOL convention. Recent changes to Annex V came into effect on 1 January 2013 that may impact on the legal position of charterers and the shippers of cargo as well as parties concerned with the operation of vessels.

Changes concerning cargo residues

Cargo residues are now classified as garbage. Under Regulation 4 discharge of garbage into the sea is only permitted while the ship is on passage and as far as practical from the nearest land, but in any case not less than:
…. 12 nautical miles from the nearest land for cargo residues that cannot be recovered using commonly available methods for unloading. These cargo residues shall not contain any substances classified as harmful to the marine environment, taking into account guidelines developed by the Organization.
Regulation 4 also states:
Cleaning agents or additives contained in cargo hold, deck and external surfaces wash water may be discharged into the sea, but these substances must not be harmful to the marine environment, taking into account guidelines developed by the Organization.

What cargo residues are considered harmful to the marine environment?

IMO Guidelines to MARPOL Annex V state that cargo residues are considered harmful to the marine environment and subject to regulations in the revised MARPOL Annex V if they are residues of solid bulk substances which are classified according to any of the criteria of the United Nations Globally Harmonized System for Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (UN GHS). Of these the following three are of particular relevance:
  1. Acute Aquatic Toxicity
  2. Chronic Aquatic Toxicity
  3. Solid bulk cargoes containing or consisting of synthetic polymers, rubber, plastics, or plastic feedstock pellets (this includes materials that are shredded, milled, chopped or macerated or similar materials).
Under these guidelines, solid bulk cargoes should be classified and declared by the shipper as to whether or not they are harmful to the marine environment.
In practice, it may not be easy to precisely determine whether a given cargo is harmful to the marine environment. Until such time as a database has been developed this may remain an imprecise science.

What is the issue?

Ships carrying cargoes that are considered as harmful to the marine environment (or potentially so) may no longer be able to discharge cargo residues at sea. As a result, such residues may have to be discharged into reception facilities ashore that may give rise to loss of time and cost to the vessel that the ship owner may seek to pass on to charterers or cargo interests.
This may, in turn, lead back to a question of where responsibility for classification lies and issues of whether a given cargo was correctly classified.


The issue is likely to be relevant to parties concerned with the sale and purchase or transport of bulk cargoes that potentially might be considered harmful to the marine environment. It is recommended that where a contract is under discussion consideration is given to:
(a) define which party has the obligation to classify the cargo and declare if it is harmful to the marine environment and
(b) apportion responsibility for any additional costs resulting from any disposal of cargo residues and hold washing containing cleaning agents needed to achieve compliance with MARPOL Annex V.

Anthony de Winton

Anthony is a consultant for Pitman. He gained a wide breadth of international legal experience in house with Kraft Foods. This experience included responsibility for the Middle East & Africa region and latterly providing legal support to the international supply chain and procurement organisation.