International agreements

The Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (the OSPAR Convention)

North Sea Conferences

Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, 1972 (London Convention)

International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 relating thereto (MARPOL 73/78)

The Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (the OSPAR Convention)

The OSPAR Convention came into force on 25 March 1998 and replaced the 1972 Oslo Convention on Waste Dumping at Sea and the 1974 Paris Convention on Pollution of the North Sea and Adjacent Areas from Land-Based Sources. The original Oslo and Paris Conventions were administered by the Oslo and Paris Commissions and these also ceased to exist when the OSPAR Commission, commonly abreviated to OSPARCOM, was created to administer the new Convention. There is considerable continuity in the work of OSPARCOM from the work of the former Commissions.

The OSPAR Convention requires signatory countries, including the UK and the European Union, to prevent and, where possible, eliminate pollution of the marine environment (previous Conventions merely required a reduction in pollution). The text of the new Convention places particular emphasis on the use of the 'polluter pays principle' and the 'precautionary approach'. The Convention places particular emphasis on preventing pollution from diffuse sources and, to this end, a list of substances contributing to diffuse pollution has been identified as priority substances for control (Appendix).

The Convention's goals are to be achieved by the use of Action Plans that prioritise the most polluting substances and industries and require the application of Best Available Technology (BAT) and Best Environmental Practice (BEP) to eliminate pollution. BAT will be applied to industrial sources whilst BEP will be used to control pollution from diffuse sources. BEP will include increased use of labelling to indicate the polluting potential of products to purchasers, the introduction of collection and recycling systems and the use of economic instruments. Other areas covered by the Convention include:

  • a prohibition on waste incineration at sea;
  • waste dumping at sea will be prohibited, except for dredged materials, inert materials of a natural origin, fish waste from processing operations and dumping from vessels and aircraft. These exceptions will be banned at the end of 2004. Dumping of sewage sludge at sea was banned from the end of 1998 in line with the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive;
  • the dumping of waste from offshore installations is to be prohibited. BAT and BEP must be applied to eliminate other sources of pollution;
  • contracting parties will be required to make information on the state of the sea available to the public, including activities affecting it and control measures to prevent pollution. This requirement is in line with the EU's Freedom of Information Directive;
  • the new Convention tightens up the legal basis for implementing measures agreed under its auspices. Decisions will be binding on countries that voted for them, whilst recommendations will be non-binding. Both are to be agreed unanimously or, where this is not possible, by a three-quarter majority vote;
  • signatory countries are required to provide information on their compliance with the Convention.
  • the Convention lays down a process for resolving disputes about transboundary pollution.

Implementation of any actions agreed under the Convention requires adoption of UK legislation.

Following a meeting of Ministers of signatory countries in Sintra, Portugal, on 23 July 1998 within the framework of OSPARCOM, a statement was released detailing some priorities for action in the immediate future. The issues meriting further action were:

Ecosystems and Biological Diversity.

Hazardous Substances.

Radioactive Substances and Eutrophication.

Perhaps the most significant of these issues for UK marine waters was the commitment made by Government to be bound by the agreement to 'ensure that discharges, emissions and losses of radioactive substances are reduced by the year 2020 to levels where the additional concentrations in the marine environment above historic levels, resulting from such discharges, emissions and losses, are close to zero.' This agreement will have greatest impact on the composition of permitted discharges from Sellafield and Dounreay.

At Sintra, OSPAR member states also committed themselves to:

  • ending all opt-outs on the sea dumping of nuclear waste;
  • banning the dumping of all steel offshore installations.

North Sea Conferences

Concern about the quality of the North Sea resulted in a series of Conferences of the Environment Ministers of countries bordering the North Sea. The decisions reached at these Conferences have had a significant impact on the development of policy and legislation for the protection of the aquatic environment in Western Europe. There have been four Conferences to date and some outstanding commitments remain from the Third Ministerial Conference held in the Hague in 1990 (see Appendix for a summary of commitments). One of the commitments undertaken by the UK was to reduce the inputs of potentially dangerous substances, subsequently known as the Red List (see Appendix). At the Fourth Ministerial Conference held in Esjberg in June 1995, Ministers maintained their commitment to reach the reduction targets set by the Third Conference as soon as possible. They agreed to ensure that all permits covering hazardous substances are at least in accordance with internationally agreed BAT (processes) or BEP (activities) by the year 2000. Ministers also agreed to take action to phase out the use of the following hazardous substances by promoting the use of less- or non-hazardous alternatives:

  • highly chlorinated short-chained paraffins;
  • trichlorobenzene;
  • musk xylenes;
  • nonyl phenols and nonyl phenolethoxylates, and related substances; and
  • brominated flame retardants.

The next conference will be held in Norway at some date during 2000-2002.

Implementation of agreements reached at Ministerial Conferences also requires adoption of UK legislation and/or revision of consents.

Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, 1972 (London Convention)

The provisions of the London Convention are global in nature and prohibit the dumping of certain hazardous materials, require a special permit for the dumping of a number of other identified materials and a prior general permit for other wastes or matter. The Convention also bans the dumping of low-level radioactive waste and the incineration of industrial wastes at sea and is administered by the International Marine Organisation (IMO).

A further revision of the Convention (the 1996 Protocol) has been agreed and ratified by the UK which 'prohibits the dumping of any wastes or other matter with the exception of those listed in Annex I' (Dredged material, sewage sludge, fish waste or material resulting from industrial fish processing operations, vessels and platforms or other man-made structures at sea is administered by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), inert, inorganic geological material, organic material of natural origin, and bulky items, primarily comprising iron, steel, concrete and similar unharmful materials). The 1996 Protocol has been ratified by 4 states and requires ratification by 26 countries before it enters into force.

Some of the provisions of the London Convention were incorporated in the Food and Environment Protection Act (FEPA) 1985 and other provisions are covered by other Conventions or international agreements with a more limited geographical scale of application (OSPAR and North Sea Conferences).

International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 relating thereto (MARPOL 73/78)

The provisions of MARPOL 73/78 are global in nature and have been adopted by many countries, including the UK. The objective of the measures introduced in the MARPOL 73/78 Convention is to regulate and minimise pollution from ships, ashore and afloat, by oil and other harmful substances. The Convention is administered by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) through its Marine Environmental Protection Committee. MARPOL 73/78 deals with the main forms of ship generated waste in five specific annexes:

  • Oil
  • Noxious liquid substances in bulk
  • Harmful substances carried by sea in packaged form
  • Sewage from ships
  • Garbage from ships
  • Air pollution from ships (under development)

Annexes I, II, IV and V provide specific requirements for the handling and discharge of ship generated wastes and these Annexes are currently in force. Annex IV (Sewage fom ships) is not currently in force but has been signed up to by many member states, including the UK. The provisions of this Annex will apply to ships over 200 tonnes gross or a ship carrying more than 10 persons.

In 1998, the Marine Environmental Protection Committee of the IMO agreed to draft mandatory regulations to phase out the use of toxic antifoulant paints containing organotins, such as tributyltin (TBT), and to propose a timetable for their prohibition. They also agreed to prepare a draft Assembly Resolution for adoption at the 21st Assembly in November 1999 which would urge member states to encourage the use of alternatives to organotin antifouling systems pending the entry into force of the mandatory instrument. One option for the introduction of the mandatory legal instrument is the adoption of a new annex to MARPOL 73/78.

The provisions of MARPOL 73/78 are translated into UK legislation in the Merchant Shipping Acts and Regulations. Further information on the implications of MARPOL 73/78 on Port and Harbour Operations are contained in ABP Research Ltd (1999).

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