Dumping of Waste and Other Matters at Sea

What is it?

The dumping of waste and other matters at sea refers to the deliberate disposal at sea of wastes or other matter from vessels, aircraft, platforms or other man-made structures at sea. It also includes any deliberate disposal at sea of vessels, aircraft, platforms or other man-made structures at sea. These deliberate disposals can also be referred to as an intentional placement for disposal.  An example which is still current is the abandonment of offshore oil and gas platforms at the end of their commercial life, unless they are serving a new legitimate use of the sea such as a diving resort, aquaculture or a managed artificial reef. One may also remember the placement of nuclear waste at sea in deep ocean trenches in the 60s and 70s and the political crises it created. 

This practice has been stopped with the adoption of the 1972 international Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Waste and Other Matter. This Convention created a list of prohibited waste (e.g. mercury, persistent plastics, crude oil, radioactive waste, etc.) and a permitting mechanism of all other waste. In 1996, the “London Protocol” was agreed to further modernize the 1972 Convention and, eventually, replace it. Under the Protocol all dumping is prohibited, except for possibly acceptable wastes on the so-called “reverse list”.

Whilst the placement of waste at sea is regulated under one specific legal regime, it involves waste from different activities (on land and at sea) which, at national and international levels may also fall under the purview of different organisations or authorities. This is why it is considered as a ‘cross-sectoral issue’ on this website.

Why it matters

Despite the 1972 Convention and its 1996 Protocol, the disposal of non-authorized waste streams at sea is still practiced. Parties to these legal instruments also seek to continue limiting the disposal of waste at sea and to ensure that authorized waste do not impact the marine environment.

ACOPS Activities

ACOPS is an Observer to the Governing Bodies of the London Convention and the London Protocol. We have been and still are active with the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the 1972 London Convention and its 1996 Protocol as well as the Scientific Group to these bodies and their working and correspondence groups.

Matters of particular interest include the waste streams focused on by these bodies including marine plastics and microplastics, guidelines on the selection of marine dump-sites, the placement of artificial reefs, geoengineering including fertilisation and the placement of mine tailings (including deep-sea tailings).

Recent Activities

The meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the London Convention and its Protocol was held at the International Maritime Organization on 7-12 October 2019 (LC41).

A key development in this meeting was the adoption of a resolution by COP41 for the provisional entry into force of the 2009 Amendment on the transboundary export  of CO2 for the purpose of carbon capture and storage (or “sequestration”) – referred to commonly as CCS. Sequestration of CO2 in the sub-seabed is thus possible for this States that have adopted the amendment. 

This resolution was framed as a necessary removal of a barrier to CO2 removal which has been highlighted by the IPCC as one of the necessary solution to decrease CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. The resolution emphasises the fact that such CCS is without prejudice to the prior obligation to decrease emissions of GHG under the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement.

ACOPS made a statement of concern that this provisional entry into force should not contravene UNCLOS and in particular article 195 on States’ obligation to act so as not to transfer, directly or indirectly, damage or hazards from one area to another or transform one type of pollution into another.
 

Link to the IMO press release:  http://www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/PressBriefings/Pages/22-CCS-LP-resolution-.aspx