Australian Maritime Safety Authority

Summary of Discharge Standards for Ships and smaller vessels operating in Australian waters: MARPOL and local requirements

Discharge Standards

The information on this page is a summary only. More detailed information is available by contacting AMSA.

Discharges at sea

The below tables provide a summary only. The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) should be consulted for full discharge requirements. For more information and definitions refer to the Current Texts of MARPOL.

From nearest land

MARPOL contains the term “from the Nearest Land”. The nearest land boundary off the north eastern coast of Australia extends around the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef and part of the Torres Strait region. Within this area no discharges are generally allowed.

Where MARPOL does not state a distance from the nearest land, certain discharges may be allowed in accordance with the relevant MARPOL Annex.

Special Areas

Different discharge standards apply in MARPOL “Special Areas”. The only Special Area in Australian waters is the Antarctic Area, which is the sea area south of latitude 60° S.

The text of the Convention should be consulted if details are required.

Particularly Sensitive Sea Area

Applicable discharge standards under MARPOL also apply in Australia’s Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (Great Barrier Reef, Torres Strait and Coral Sea).

Ports and parks

Stricter requirements may apply to vessels when in Australian ports, State/Northern Territory waters and/or the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and should be checked with port/State/Northern Territory authorities prior to discharge.

TABLE 1 Oil MARPOL Annex I - Applies to all vessels

Vessel/Voyage type/Area Sub-Category Discharge Conditions
Oil tankers
All waters
Oily waste from cargo tanks
  • Discharge permitted if more than 50 nautical miles from the nearest land; and
  • Tanker is proceeding en route; and
  • Instantaneous rate of discharge < 30 litres per nautical mile; and
  • Total quantity discharge does not exceed 1/15,000 or 1/30,000 of the total cargo (depending on the age of the vessel); and
  • Oil discharge monitoring and control system and slop tank arrangement to be operating.
All vessels > 400 gross tons
All waters
Machinery space bilges
  • Discharge permitted when proceeding en route; and
  • Oil content less than 15 parts per million; and
  • Oil discharge monitoring and control system and oil filtering equipment is operating

In some circumstances, oil or oily mixtures, may be retained onboard for discharge to port reception facilities – see MARPOL Annex I, Regulation 14.

Note: 15ppm discharges can be anywhere at sea (not within port limits) including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Marine Protected Areas. Vessel must not be stationary when undertaking discharge.

All vessels <400 gross tons
All waters
Machinery space bilges
  • Oil and all oily mixtures retain onboard for on shore disposal
OR
  • Proceeding en route; and
  • Has in operation equipment of a design approved by the administration that ensures oil content less than 15 parts per million.
Note: 15ppm discharges can be anywhere at sea (not within port limits) including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Marine Protected Areas. Vessel must not be stationary when undertaking discharge.
Vessels operating in Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Bunkering utilising ship to ship transfers
  • A Permit is required from GBRMPA which may impose specific conditions.

TABLE 2 Garbage MARPOL Annex V - Applies to all vessels

This table provides only a summary of discharge requirements under MARPOL Annex V. For full details refer to MARPOL consolidated edition 2011, Annex V, and the 2012 Guidelines for the Implementation of MARPOL Annex V.

All ships and small vessels arriving into Australian waters on an international voyage will be subject to Australian Biosecurity requirements and therefore additional restrictions will apply, particularly in relation to food and other waste onboard. See the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources for more information.

Type of garbage Ships outside special areas1 Ships within special areas1 Offshore platforms (more than 12 nm from land) and all ships within 500m of such platforms
Food2 waste comminuted or ground to particle size < 25mm Discharge permitted, while en route3, as far as practicable from the nearest land, but in any case, ≥ 3nm from the nearest land. Discharge permitted4, while en route3, as far as practicable from the nearest land, but in any case, ≥ 12nm from the nearest land. Discharge permitted
Food2 waste not comminuted or ground Discharge permitted, while en route3, as far as practicable from the nearest land, but in any case, ≥ 12nm from the nearest land. Discharge prohibited Discharge prohibited
Cargo residues that are Harmful to the Marine Environment Discharge prohibited Discharge prohibited Discharge prohibited
Cargo residues that are not Harmful to the Marine Environment6 that cannot be recovered using commonly available methods for unloading, not contained in wash water. Discharge permitted, while en route, as far as practicable from the nearest land, but in any case, ≥ 12nm from the nearest land5. Discharge prohibited Discharge prohibited
Cargo residues that are not Harmful to the Marine Environment6 that cannot be recovered using commonly available methods for unloading, contained in wash water Discharge permitted, while en route, as far as practicable from the nearest land, but in any case, ≥ 12nm from the nearest land subject to conditions7. Discharge prohibited
Cargo material not Harmful to the Marine Environment5 contained in cargo hold bilge water Discharge permitted, from a loaded hold8 through the ships’ fixed piping bilge drainage system. Discharge prohibited
Cleaning agents and additives5 contained in cargo hold wash water Discharge permitted Discharge permitted, while en route, as far as practicable from the nearest land, but in any case, ≥ 12nm from the nearest land subject to conditions7. Discharge prohibited
Cleaning agents and additives11 in deck and external surfaces wash water Discharge permitted Discharge prohibited
Carcasses of animals carried on board as cargo and which died during the voyage Discharge permitted, while en route, as far as practicable from the nearest land and at maximum water depth, but in any case, ≥ 100nm9 from the nearest land. Discharge prohibited Discharge prohibited
Grey water Discharge permitted10 Discharge permitted10 Discharge permitted10
All other garbage including plastics, synthetic ropes, fishing gear, plastic garbage bags, incinerator ashes, clinkers, cooking oil, floating dunnage, lining and packing materials, paper, rags, glass, metal, bottles, crockery and similar refuse Discharge prohibited Discharge prohibited Discharge prohibited
Mixed garbage When garbage is mixed with or contaminated by other substances prohibited from discharge or having different discharge requirements, the more stringent requirements apply.
Note: The above conditions apply except where the disposal of garbage from a ship is necessary for the purpose of securing the safety of a ship and those on board or saving life at sea – see MARPOL Regulation 7.1.1
  1. Under MARPOL Annex V, the areas of: the Mediterranean Sea; the Baltic Sea; the Black Sea; the Red Sea; the “Gulfs” area; the North Sea; the Antarctic area; and the Wider Caribbean region (including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea) are provided with a higher level of protection than other sea areas. Further information on special areas can be found in circular MEPC.1/Circ.778/Rev.1.
  2. Small quantities of food released directly into the sea for the specific purpose of fish feeding in connection with fishing or tourist operations is permitted.
  3. The en route requirement does not apply to the discharge of food wastes, where it is clear that retention on board presents an imminent health risk to the people on board. See MARPOL Annex V, Regulation 7.2.1
  4. The discharge of introduced avian products, including poultry and poultry parts, is prohibited within the Antarctic special area (sea area south of latitude 600S), except where those introduced avian products are incinerated, autoclaved or otherwise treated to be made sterile.
  5. When in port, check with the port authority as local regulations may also apply. The above restrictions do not apply to the wash down of cargo residues from deck areas of vessels undertaken for safety purposes including:
    • Safe operation of a helicopter within the landing area and its immediate vicinity to avoid dust being raised by the down-draft of the rotors;
    • Where there is a need to avoid navigational hazards such as dust being blown onto the wheelhouse or bridge wings;
    • Where residues may cause a serious safety hazard to personnel if spillages are not cleaned from deck areas, adjacent walkways and working areas
  6. Cargo residues are considered to be harmful to the marine environment if they are residues of solid bulk cargoes which are classified according to the criteria of the United Nations Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). See Resolution MEPC.219(63) 2012 Guidelines for the Implementation of MARPOL Annex V for further information.
  7. Discharge is permitted where conditions (a) and (b), as follows, both apply: (a) both the port of departure and the next port of destination are within the special area and the ship will not transit outside the special area between theses ports; and (b) if no adequate reception facilities are available at these ports. See MARPOL Annex V Regulation 6.1.2.
  8. Vessels at anchorage for a period of time with empty holds may discharge hold bilge water through the ships’ fixed piping bilge drainage system as long as the water is not directly related to a hold washing/cleaning operation.
  9. If a threat to human health and safety of the crew or the remaining live animals on board exists, discharge to take place ≥ 12nm from the nearest land.
  10. In all cases, check with local authorities as local regulations may apply. Within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, as far as practicable from reefs and islands.
  11. Cleaning agents or additives in cargo hold, deck and external surfaces washwater are considered Harmful to the Marine Environment if it is a “harmful substance” in accordance with the criteria in MARPOL Annex III; and contains any components which are known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic or reprotoxic (CMR). See Resolution MEPC.219(63) 2012 Guidelines for the Implementation of MARPOL Annex V for further information.

TABLE 3 Sewage - MARPOL Annex IV

Vessel/Voyage type/Area Sub-Category Discharge Conditions
Vessels (other than passenger ships within special areas) Comminuted and disinfected sewage using an approved system in accordance with regulation 9.1.2 of MARPOL Annex IV
  • Permitted as long as no less than 3 nm from nearest land; and
  • Sewage originating from holding tanks, or sewage originating from spaces containing live animals is discharged at a moderate rate* while the ship is proceeding en route at a speed not less than 4 knots.
* The rate of discharge shall be approved by the Administration based upon standards approved by the Organisation. Recommended standards for the rate of discharge of sewage from ships can be found in Marine Order 96.
Vessels (other than passenger ships within special areas) Sewage not comminuted or disinfected
  • Permitted as long as no less than 12 nm from nearest land; and
  • Sewage originating from holding tanks, or sewage originating from spaces containing live animals is discharged at a moderate rate* while the ship is proceeding en route at a speed not less than 4 knots
* The rate of discharge shall be approved by the Administration based upon standards approved by the Organisation. Recommended standards for the rate of discharge of sewage from ships can be found in Marine Order 96
Vessels (other than passenger ships within special areas) on International voyages to and continuing in Australian waters Treated sewage effluent discharged through an approved Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) certified by the Administration to meet the operational requirements referred to in regulation 9.1.1 of MARPOL Annex IV

Permitted provided:

  • Effluent does not produce visible floating solids nor cause discolouration of the surrounding water
  • Local laws may prohibit discharges in ports

Additionally:

  • When within port limits, check with port authority as permission may be required
  • All vessels should ensure that the STP is operating at optimum performance when in Australian waters
Food or biological waste removed from filtration units of vessels on international voyages is prohibited from discharge within 12nm from land (Department of Agriculture and Water Resources requirements)

Passenger ships within special areas*

* further information on special areas can be found in circular MEPC.1/Circ.778/Rev.1

Treated sewage effluent from new passenger ships on, or after 1 January 2016 and for existing passenger ships on, or after 1 January 2018

Permitted provided:

  • The ship has in operation an approved sewage treatment plant certified by the Administration to meet the operational requirements referred to in regulation 9.2.1 of MARPOL Annex IV; and
  • Effluent does not produce visible floating solids nor cause discolouration of the surrounding water.
Note: local laws may prohibit discharges in ports
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Vessels on International voyages to and continuing in Australian waters All sewage discharges In accordance with Annex IV requirements and where applicable with any additional restrictions imposed as conditions of a GBRMP permit

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park

Vessels on domestic voyages
All sewage discharges
  • Recommended to comply with MARPOL Annex IV
  • Or, in accordance with requirements of Part 3A of the GBRMPA Regulations (93A-93G) for both treated and untreated sewage
  • AND, where applicable, in accordance with any additional restrictions imposed as conditions of a GBRMP permit
Queensland State Waters (small vessels/State registered and recreational)

If vessel does not have a sewage treatment system on board, options include:

  • Using onshore toilet facilities whenever possible
  • Using a portable toilet to be later emptied to a sewerage/septic system
Retain sewage in onboard holding tank for pumping out to shore facilities.
  • If a vessel has 16 or more persons on board, no discharge of untreated sewage is permitted anywhere in Queensland waters.
  • If a vessel has 7 to 15 persons on board, no discharge of untreated sewage is permitted within 1 nm of a reef or the mean low water mark of an island or the mainland.
  • No discharge of untreated sewage is permitted within 1 nm of aquaculture fisheries resources, or within 0.5 nm of a wharf or jetty other than a jetty that is a marina.

TABLE 4 Air Emissions MARPOL Annex VI - Applies to all vessels

Vessel/Voyage type/Area Sub-Category Discharge Conditions
All vessels Ozone-depleting substances
  • Prohibited
Nitrogen Oxides (NOx)
  • Operation of diesel engines >130kW prohibited unless engine is certified to meet prescribed emission standards.
  • New Engines where rated engine speed is < 130 rpm1:
    • Tier I - 17 g/kW from 1 January 2000
    • Tier II - 14.4 g/kW from 1 January 2011
    • Tier III - 3.4 g/kW from 1 January 2016 in NOx Emission Control Areas (NECAs)
    Existing Engines where rated engine speed < 130 rpm1 (installed on ship on or between 1 January 1990 to 1 January 2000)
    • 17g/kW for diesel engine with power output >5000kW and displacement per cylinder => 90 litres
    • Approved method by Administration
Sulphur Oxides
  • Sulphur content of fuel oil not to exceed 3.5%.2
  • From 1 January 2020 sulphur content of fuel oil not to exceed 0.5%
Incinerators

Shipboard Incinerators installed after 1 January 2000 must be type approved and certified to meet prescribed emission standards.

Certain substances are prohibited for incineration. Please refer to Regulation 16 of MARPOL Annex VI for further information.

Shipboard incineration of polyvinyl chlorides (PVCs) is only permitted in shipboard incinerators that are type approved.

Shipboard incineration must only take place in a shipboard incinerator except for incineration of sewage sludge and sludge oil generated during normal operation of a ship, which may also take place in the main or auxiliary power plant or boilers, but in those cases, must not take place inside ports, harbours and estuaries.

  1. Emission limits where rated engine speed is > 130 kw are provided in Regulation 13 of MARPOL Annex VI.
  2. Fuel oil to be purchased from a registered supplier.

TABLE 5 Noxious Liquid Substances MARPOL Annex II and Harmful Packaged Substances MARPOL Annex III

Vessel/Voyage type/Area Sub-Category Discharge Conditions
Chemical and Product Tankers to which Annex II applies Category X,Y and Z

Before any prewash or discharge into the sea is carried out, the relevant tank must be unloaded in accordance with the ship’s Procedures and Arrangements Manual

Category X

Tanks to be prewashed before leaving unloading port, residues to be pumped ashore until the concentration of the substance in the effluent is 0.1% by weight or less, as indicated by analysis of samples of the effluent taken by an AMSA marine surveyor. When the required concentration level has been achieved, remaining tank washings to be discharged to the reception facility until the tank is empty. Appropriate entries to be made in the Cargo Record Book and endorsed by the AMSA marine surveyor. Any water subsequently added may be discharged if:

  • Ship is proceeding en route at a speed of at least 7 knots; and
  • Discharge is below the waterline; and
Ship is > 12 nm from nearest land and depth of water is >25m
High-viscosity or solidifying Category Y

Prewash in accordance with Appendix VI to MARPOL Annex II, residues to be pumped ashore until tank is empty. Any water subsequently added may be discharged if:

  • Ship is proceeding en route at a speed of at least 7 knots; and
  • Discharge is below the waterline; and
Ship is > 12 nm from nearest land and depth of water is >25m
Category Y
Category Z

Provided the tanks are unloaded in accordance with the Procedures and Arrangements Manual, residues may be discharged if:

  • Ship is proceeding en route at a speed of at least 7 knots; and
  • Discharge is below the waterline1; and
  • Ship is > 12 nm from nearest land and depth of water is >25m
If tanks are not unloaded in accordance with the Procedures and Arrangements Manual, a prewash is to be carried out and the resulting tank washings are to be discharged ashore.
MARPOL Harmful Packaged Substances (Annex III) Jettisoning of harmful packaged substances into the sea
  • Prohibited, except where necessary for the purpose of securing the safety of the ship or saving life at sea
  1. For ships constructed before 1 January 2007, the discharge into the sea of residues of substances in category Z below the waterline is not mandatory.

TABLE 6 Additional Local Requirements

Within port limits

Any discharge within port limits
  • Comply with relevant Annexes of MARPOL
AND
  • Check with relevant port authority

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park

Permit is required for Cruise ships and other vessels conducting specific operations within the Marine Park (e.g. dredges, pipeline laying vessels etc)
  • Conditions may be imposed as listed on the Permit (e.g. there may be requirements imposed for sewage discharges that are stricter than MARPOL requirements)
Environmentally Sensitive Sea Areas (ESSAs) as marked upon navigation charts These sea areas have specific environmental protective measures that apply for commercial tourism, fishing, mining, scientific and recreational purposes. Permits are required for such activities are issued by the Director of National Parks.
  • No restrictions upon shipping activities, or commercial vessel transit undertaking voyages in conformance with MARPOL and SOLAS
  • Vessels should note the environmental significance of the area and take extra care while transiting through these areas
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