Garbage Discharges. Do you know the requirements?

Table of contents

The disposal of all garbage into the sea from vessels is prohibited, except in some limited circumstances.

Under MARPOL Annex V, garbage includes all kinds of food waste, domestic waste and operational waste, all plastics, cargo residues, incinerator ashes, cooking oil, fishing gear, and animal carcasses generated during the normal operation of the vessel.


Food Wastes

While the vessel is en-route, food wastes that have been ground and capable of passing through a screen with openings no greater than 25mm, can only be discharged 3nm or more from the nearest land.

 Food waste not ground can only be discharged 12 nautical miles or more from the nearest land. Vessels operating alongside or within 500mtrs of a fixed and floating platform cannot discharge food waste, except under very limited circumstances.

Additional requirements are in place for vessels operating in MARPOL Special Areas and Polar Regions. Refer to MARPOL for more information, noting that there are currently no Annex V Special Areas designated around the Australian mainland. There is, however, an extended ‘nearest land’ boundary around the Great Barrier Reef area.


Cargo Residues

Cargo residues may be left over after loading or unloading. Cargo residues classified as Harmful to the Marine Environment (HME), cannot be discharged into the sea, except under very limited circumstances. Such waste must be discharged to an onshore waste reception facility.

Cargo residues not classified as HME can be discharged into the sea provided that the vessel is en-route, and the discharge occurs as far as practicable from the nearest land, but not less than 12 nautical miles from the nearest land.

Cleaning agents or additives contained in holds, deck and external surfaces wash water can be discharged into the sea, provided that they are not classified as HME.

For cleaning agents and additives, HME substances are those that are identified as marine pollutants in the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code, or which meet the criteria in the Appendix of MARPOL Annex III (harmful substances). These criteria can be found in the 2017 Guidelines.

Animal Carcasses

Animal carcasses may only be discharged into the sea when:

  • the vessel is not in a MARPOL designated special area;
  • the vessel is en-route, and the discharge is as far as possible from the nearest land;
  • the carcass has been slit or cut so that its thoracic and abdominal cavities are opened or passed through a comminuter, grinder, hogger, mincer or similar equipment; and
  • the discharge is undertaken in accordance with section 2.12 of the 2017 Guidelines.

Mixed Garbage

When different types of garbage are combined or contaminated by other substances that are prohibited from discharge, the more stringent discharge requirements will apply.

Garbage Management

AMSA requires that larger vessels manage, and record waste generated on board the vessel, including discharges.

Garbage Management Plans

Under MARPOL Annex V every vessel of 100 gross tonnage and above, and every vessel certified to carry 15 or more persons, is required to carry a Garbage Management Plan. The Garbage Management Plan contains procedures for collecting, storing, processing and the discharge of garbage, including the use of equipment onboard.

Garbage Record Books

Under MARPOL Annex V every vessel of 400 gross tonnage and above, and every vessel certified to carry 15 or more persons engaged in international voyages, is required to maintain and retain onboard a Garbage Record Book.

Fishing vessel operators must record the discharge or loss of fishing gear in the Garbage Record Book or the vessel’s official logbook.

The Garbage Record Books are divided into Part I and Part II. Part I is used by all vessels, but Part II is only required for vessels that carry solid bulk cargoes.

Part I covers discharges of:

A. Plastics

B. Food wastes

C. Domestic wastes

D. Cooking oil

E. Incinerator ashes

F. Operational wastes

G. Animal carcass(es)

H. Fishing gear

I. E-waste

Part II covers discharges of:

J. Cargo residues (non-Harmful to the Marine Environment)

K. Cargo residues (Harmful to the Marine Environment).


All vessels of 12 metres or more in length are required to display placards that notify the crew and passengers of the MARPOL garbage discharge requirements for that vessel under MARPOL.

The placards should be placed in prominent places onboard the vessel where the crew and passengers will see them to inform how they can manage their waste (e.g., galley spaces, wheelhouse, main deck and passenger accommodation).

Garbage Placards can be obtained from any AMSA office or by submitting a request to AMSA through the AMSA website.

Reception facilities

Australia is required under MARPOL to ensure that adequate reception facilities are available in ports and terminals to meet the needs of the vessels regularly using them, including the reception of all waste streams generated on board a vessel during normal operations.

Further information on arranging for waste reception, reporting inadequacies of facilities, and best practice regarding the provision of waste reception facilities in Australia can be found on AMSA’s Waste reception facilities in Australian ports webpage.


Exceptions to the prohibition of garbage discharge under MARPOL Annex V are:

General garbage

  • The discharge of garbage from a vessel is necessary to secure the safety of a vessel and those on board, or saving a life at sea;
  • The accidental loss of garbage resulting from damage to a vessel or its equipment, provided that all reasonable precautions have been taken before and after the occurrence of the damage, to prevent or minimise the accidental loss;

Fishing gear

  • The accidental loss of fishing gear from a vessel provided that all reasonable precautions have been taken to prevent such loss; or
  • The discharge of fishing gear from a vessel for the protection of the marine environment or for the safety of that vessel or its crew.

When the loss or discharge of fishing gear, such as nets, long lines, fish traps or any human-made contraptions designed to catch fish, cannot be reasonably retrieved, and poses a significant threat to the marine environment and navigation, the fishing vessel operator is required to report the approximate position and reasons for the loss to the nearest port authority or the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Canberra (on 1800 641 792).

This allows AMSA to broadcast Maritime Safety Information (MSI) if there is a significant risk to navigation. The loss must still be recorded in the garbage record book, as above.

It is recommended that state/NT and port authorities are consulted on any local regulations that may apply in specific circumstances.


There are substantial penalties for MARPOL breaches in the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Vessels) Act 1983, including the power to detain vessels.  A detention requires the owner to post an undertaking of considerable financial security.

Guidelines for the Implementation of MARPOL Annex V

The 2017 Guidelines for the Implementation of MARPOL Annex V (Resolution MEPC.295(71)), as amended, (2017 Guidelines) were developed to assist vessel owners, vessel operators, vessels’ crews, cargo owners and equipment manufacturers in complying with certain requirements set out in Annex V of MARPOL. This includes the management of cargo residues, cleaning agents or additives, and the treatment of animal carcasses.

The 2017 Guidelines also provide information on all aspects of garbage management, such as waste minimisation, vessel board garbage handling and storage, vessel board treatment of garbage (e.g., grinding or comminution, compaction and incineration).

Shorlink’s Recommendation

Where required we recommend that you have a Garbage Record book to record the relevant information or record it in the vessels Log Book.

In today’s world ensuring you maintain the appropriate records is paramount!


Use sealable bags to store garbage onboard and dispose of all garbage in the appropriate receptacles ashore.

It’s also a good tip to separate recyclable items from general garbage and place them in the appropriate recycling bins ashore.

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