Management and International Legislation Report

Marine environment refers to: the physical, chemical, geological and biological components, conditions and factors which interact and determine the productivity of, state, condition and quality of the marine ecosystem, the waters of the seas and oceans and the airspace above those waters, as well as the seabed and ocean floor and subsoil thereof.1

Marine pollution is the name given to the damage which is caused by hazardous chemicals or other substances when they enter the ocean. This has a number of harmful effects, one of which is that since plankton and benthos animals depend on tiny particles for sustenance, when these potentially toxic chemicals adhere to these particles, it sets off a dangerous ripple effect: fish meal and fish oil content is an essential part of most animal feeds, and therefore, these toxins are often found in meat, eggs, milk, butter, margarine and other food items which have livestock and animal husbandry as their source. This is just one example of the dangers that marine pollution poses.2

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These the sea via rivers. For instance, rivers such as the Hudson and the Raritan in the American states of New York and New Jersey respectively, which empty into ends of Staten Island, are sources of mercury contamination of organisms present in the open ocean. Many particles mix to form a chemical combination which depletes oxygen from the water, causing hypoxia, and threatening the biological life there.

The ecology of the marine environment is significantly harmed by crude/fuel oil (caused for example by natural submarine seepage, shore-based industrial and transport activities, offshore drilling, wrecked oil tankers and other ships, and discharges from ships which pump out cargo and ballast tanks with sea water), chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides including DDT, dieldrin and endrin (through water run-off from agricultural areas and from the atmosphere), polychlorinated biphenyls, domestic and industrial waste discharged from coasts (such as domestic sewage, wastes from food-processing, detergents, and run-off from agricultural areas, heavy metals, radioactive nuclides, inorganic chemicals and heated water) and waste dumped from vessels (usually containing highly toxic materials) into international waters.3

Marine pollution has since a couple of years assumed global proportions as it has an impact on the health of oceans in all parts of the world, on all countries whether they are developed or developing and the problem is not caused by one country or some countries. In fact, all countries contribute to the problem in some way or the other. Even if the problems are restricted to a particular country or region, its implications are international in nature. Also, it can not be thought of as just a global concern, it is a multi-faceted issue with interlinked economic, technological, political and legal aspects.4

It would be unwise to expect a single remedy or solution for this problem or to apply the age-old maxim that those responsible for polluting should also be responsible for cleaning it or should pay appropriate compensation. One of the reasons why waste matter is disposed off in the oceans is because disposing it off anywhere else is riskier and more costly. In a number of situations, it becomes very difficult to even attribute blame for damage.

For example, regarding pollution in the Mediterranean, officials from France and Italy have traded charges, but to no avail, the French claimed that they suffer because of the waste materials which originate from Italy while the Italians reason that they are the victims of oil slicks from the port of Marseille. Even where liability can be assigned, it might not serve as deterrent. Outright prohibition seems an obvious solution but that will deprive legitimate users as well.5

What measures can and can not be implemented in management and control of marine pollution is made a bit more complex because of the variety of pollutants. They have different chemical compositions and behaviors, different ways in which they enter the marine environment, and the nature and extent of their effects varies. Some are discharged on purpose, some accidentally; some sources can easily be tracked, some remain vague and untraceable; some pollutants retain their chemical structure, some are degraded in hours or days; some pose a definite threat to marine ecology, others may or may not be dangerous in the long term.

Hence, to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to developing a management solution is not adequate to meet the spectrum of marine pollution problems, whether national or international. Control measures must be tailored carefully to fit specific problems.6

The UN agencies in particular and other regional and international organizations in general have played a significant role and continue to do so in promoting national efforts to address national as well as . They have successfully created public awareness, provided financial resources, upgraded institutional capacity and promoted scientific research. However, these efforts while welcome, can not match or offset the accelerating environmental degradation which large-scale, improperly planned and regulated economic development is causing. Also, efforts are often focused on developing national policy, establishing broad national programs, providing training for national staff, setting up research laboratories, developing national pollution monitoring programs or providing financial support for sewage or industrial treatment plants.

These attempts have not been entirely sufficient in solving and managing marine pollution problems but have laid a solid foundation for countries to address their national and .7

The Global Environmental Facility was set up in 1991 by donor governments and it has since then provided countries with an opportunity to develop strong technical and management skills as well as strategic and programmatic approaches as it lends support to projects related to biodiversity, climate change, international waters, land degradation, the ozone layer and persistent organic pollutants. (Thia-Eng, 1999) However, it is the International Maritime Organization (IMO, previously IMCO) which was started in 1948 through the United Nations but truly entered the arena when its first meeting was held in 1959, that says on its website, that its main task has been to develop and maintain a comprehensive regulatory framework for shipping and its remit today includes safety, environmental concerns, legal matters, technical co-operation, maritime safety and the efficiency of shipping. It counts the prevention of marine pollution as one of its fundamental objectives.8

The IMO is composed of a number of specialist committees and sub-committees, the members of which are representatives from Member States who adhere to the assistance and advice of the UN, specialized agencies and international governmental and non-governmental organizations in discharging their responsibilities. The various inter- and which are associated with the IMO stand contribute with their maritime, legal and environmental interests and expertise to help improve the workings of the various committees and organs through information, documentation and advice.

A key activity of the IMO to ensure the achievement of its objectives has been the promotion of adoption of about 40 conventions and protocols as well as more than 800 codes and recommendations regarding maritime safety, pollution prevention and similar issues. As a side activity, it has also pursued the goal of securing effective implementation of these measures by offering technical assistance activities to help countries, most of them developing, to consent to IMO conventions and reach the standards contained in the SOLAS convention as well as other instruments. A detailed discussion of IMO conventions follows.9

Legislations and Conventions
From the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1898, legislation and other agreements to restrict marine pollution have come a long way. In the 1920s, legislation was mostly focused on pollution from oil tankers. Then in the 1970s, it addressed tanker construction, operation and design while the 1990 Oil Pollution Act played a significant role in reducing the spillage of oil and other substances into oceans and seas as well as developing a system of planning for and dealing with oil spills.10

The IMO and the United Nations Environmental Program have established numerous multi-state mechanisms in the form of conventions and agreement specifically aimed at reducing marine pollution. These can be classified into two broad areas: one regarding regulating activities to reduce marine pollution and second, regarding the setting up of various compensation mechanisms to deal with marine pollution.11

The first marine pollution treaty was signed in 1954 which only targeted oil pollution. This was later replaced by the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships 1973 (MARPOL 73/78) which included marine pollution from a variety of sources such as oil (Annex1), noxious bulk liquids (Annex2), hazardous freight, sewage and garbage. On December 31, 2005, 136 countries of the world, which accounted for 98% of the worlds shipping tonnage, are a part of this Convention.

States Parties must accept Annexes I and II, but the other Annexes are voluntary. MARPOL was established first more than 30 years ago, in 1973, and since then has been undergoing constant development. The IMO is responsible for developing and managing marine pollution agreements and amending them according to the changing times. For example, under Annex V of MARPOL, it designated the Gulf of Mexico as a special area, thus banning ships from dumping garbage in any area of the Gulf.12

The London Dumping Convention is also a famous convention, the formal name for which is the 1972 International Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter. This prohibits the intentional ocean dumping several categories of waste including high-level radioactive wastes and chemical warfare agents, and allows disposal of certain other substances through a permit system. The IMO is responsible for the secretariat responsibilities associated with this convention. At present, there are 78 parties to this convention. The 1996 Protocol, as an update to the London Convention, went one step further and banned all dumping, except for certain items, which may be considered for dumping.13

The IMOs legislation and agreements have led to a vast improvement in the shipping impacts on the ocean. Safety at sea, navigation, routing, transportation of dangerous goods, marine pollution from ships, dumping and incineration at sea are all reasonably well addressed via the various conventions and associated protocols. However, there are variations in the implementation of these agreements in regions. The MARPOL 1973/78 requires a strengthened implementation in many parts of the world, and this needs to be supplemented by technical developments and installations.14

One of the major issues which the IMO faces is that its processes are laborious and slow, and because of this, fail to deal with the immediate problems the industry is facing. This problem is caused also by the nature of unanimity which it uses while developing its policies. As a measure to speed up the process, the concept of tacit acceptance has been adopted. Another problem is that the instruments which IMO has developed do not have any mechanisms which can help ensure that member states are meeting their responsibilities. This is left up to the members themselves, which often leads to variations in implementation.15

Marine pollution is not a simple problem with a simple answer. It is a global issue which requires the thorough implementation of existing agreements as well as development and implementation of new marine and coastal area policies to reduce the perils associated with it. It requires active cooperation between specialized agencies, governments, public and private industries rather than prohibitive legislation alone.


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