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Conventions and legislation

Presentation of international and European texts which govern operational discharge.

Operational discharge from ships is governed by a combination of texts of varying range and application:

  • international conventions, which apply to all signatory countries
  • European directives and decisions, which only apply to members of the European Union
  • national codes, laws, instructions and orders, which apply to the whole of the country, including the EEZ, in as far as they do not contradict the texts of the two preceding categories.

The main texts in force are listed below.


International convention

International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 17 February 1978 relating thereto, referred to as the “MARPOL 73/78 Convention” and its Annex 1, transposed by the law of 5 July 1983.This text constitutes the main international convention establishing the basis for the repression of pollution of the marine environment by ships from operational causes, as it lays out what is authorised and what is not in terms of discharge of oil from ships.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (agreement relating to the implementation of part XI) (Montego Bay, 1982).The reference text at the root of the other conventions relating to the sea.


European directives and decisions

Directive 2000/59/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 November 2000 on port reception facilities for ship-generated waste and cargo residues which makes it mandatory for member States to equip their ports with facilities in accordance with IMO (International Maritime Organization) recommendations.
 + Order of 22 September 2003 for the application of the directive (France).
 This measure is intended to reduce the discharge of waste at sea by offering the possibility of unloading such polluting waste in ports of the European Community and by implementing controls of these discharges by delivering an unloading certificate.

Council Framework Decision 2005/667/JHA of 12 July 2005 to strengthen the criminal-law framework for the enforcement of the law against ship-source pollution.
 This decision facilitates recovery of fines given. The member States must take the necessary measures to ensure that infringements result in effective, proportional, dissuasive penalties. In serious cases, infringements should be considered as criminal offences.

Directive 2005/35/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 September 2005 on ship-source pollution and on the introduction of penalties for infringements.
 This directive aims to harmonise international criminal-law legislation in this domain and provide common mechanisms for criminal liability (for instance legal persons) and minimum limits for penalties. It establishes the fact that illicit discharge is considered as an offence.



More information

IMO,  ITOPF and the IOPC Funds have launched an exhibition to mark 50 years of successful cooperation between government and industry to achieve a dramatic and sustained reduction in major oil spills from ships; to establish effective systems for preparedness and response if there is an incident and to create a comprehensive mechanism for providing compensation to those affected.

Last update: 01/02/2007