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Schwerpunkt: Responsible Maritime Governance ∙ Ship Waste and Marine Litter Under the International Law of the Sea and International Environmental Law

Aleke Stöfen-O’Brien


Marine litter pollution of the marine environment is seen as one of the most pressing issues of our time. This is a very complex scientific and regulatory problem due to the longevity of the waste, which consists mainly of plastic. There are also many uncertainties and gaps in our knowledge regarding its fate and effects in the marine environment. Plastic waste discharges from ocean shipping are relatively low at a global scale. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) addressed this problem very early on by adopting international agreements. In particular, Annex V of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) is a key instrument. Although it was revised in 2013, there are still regulatory gaps and a lack of definitions leads to inconsistent implementation. The persisting enforcement difficulties also weaken the system. As MARPOL provides for minimum standards, some regional developments must be given special attention. The implementation of the IMO guidelines in the Baltic Sea region, within the framework of which a special cost recovery system was developed, is central here. The approach is based on developing economic incentives for the landing of ship-generated waste in order to prevent it from being discharged into the marine environment . Overall, various international and regional fora are adopting measures against marine waste. However, the multitude of measures reduces the effectiveness of the waste avoidance regime.

Dr. Aleke Stöfen-O’Brien is an Associate Research Officer at the World Maritime University (WMU) – Sasakawa Global Ocean Institute, Malmö, Sweden. This article is based on the presentation at the Hamburg International Environmental Law Conference (HIELC) 2019.

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