Australian Maritime Safety Authority

Maritime discharges of oil and oily water during emergency and response situations


Discharges into the sea from a vessel of oil, oily water, decant water or water emanating from an oily water separator are strictly regulated under Australian maritime law.

Emergency and response situations

In certain circumstances, the tight restrictions of oil/oily water discharge quality may be relaxed. This may include where it:

  • is necessary to secure the safety of a ship or save a life at sea
  • occurs after non-intentional damage to the ship or its equipment, and all reasonable precautions were taken to prevent or minimize discharge
  • is necessary during a spill response to discharge oil/oily water to minimize the overall damage from pollution, and is approved by the relevant government.

Australian arrangements and law

Australia has implemented the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), which:

  • proscribes discharging oily water mixtures from a ship into the sea except under specific circumstances
  • allows an oily mixture to be discharged to minimise the damage from pollution when the action has been approved by a prescribed officer
  • Within AMSA, prescribed offers include:
    • the AMSA Local Manager
    • the Manager Marine Environmental Pollution Response
    • the General Manager, Marine Environment
    • the General Manager, Ship Safety Division.

Note, approval will be specific to a particular incident.

While no form is needed, a full explanation of the situation will assist the person assessing the situation, including:

  • who and why - the vessel, the incident and the applicant
  • what - the planned response operations that require the oily water discharge
  • how - the state and capability of the ship as a response platform
  • result - the expected discharge volumes or rates.

This applies to all Australian waters except where the State/NT has passed its own legislation.

Discharge of oily water into the sea from land-based activities and facilities

Discharge from a land-based storage facility (tank, IBC, drum, etc.) to the sea is subject to the specific pollution laws of the local jurisdiction (Commonwealth, State or Territory).

There are technologies which can separate water from oil to ensure each is disposed of appropriately.

Even in remote areas where oily water storage and waste oil disposal may be a problem, the logistics and infrastructure issues should be anticipated and planned for.

There are oily water disposal methods that allow oily water to be discharged to land (e.g. land-farming) or to the sea.

However, these are not risk or effects-free and need to be anticipated, planned, tested and given regulatory approval by the relevant jurisdiction, prior to implementation.

Further information

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