Discharging superyacht blackwater


Regulations for the prevention of sewage pollution from superyachts are steadily increasing, differing baseline perceptions from country to country can introduce any number of problematic ambiguities. Sewage discharge, also known as blackwater, contains pollutants including metals, toxins and pathogens. MARPOL permits blackwater to be discharged from a superyacht no less than 12NM from the nearest land. However, many crews find themselvesfollowing these exact instructions and still end up failing to meet MARPOL’s requirements.

Captains and crew must discharge blackwater with caution, as they bear the responsibility for what is expelled into the marine environment. Even though crews may think they are acting lawfully, certain countries’ baseline definitions are concerningly easy to misinterpret, leaving vessels open to extremely harsh fines even though crews might have acted in good faith. What the term ‘12NM from nearest land’ really means in MARPOL’s discharge statutes is 12NM from a country’s territorial sea baseline; and, as stated, not all regional authorities define their baselines in the same way. In fact, several countries, such as Italy, have established their baselines as just a straight line from their coastal landscape.

As a result of such inconsistencies, not only can MARPOL regulations be interpreted ambiguously, but also those set by regional authorities. A factor that many captains and crew may not be aware of is that baselines are established by these regional ordinances; and, in addition, many regional regulations do not specifically stipulate what type/s of blackwater, or ‘pollution’, can legally be discharged.

Untreated sewage water, water from a Marine Sanitised Device (MSD) and Advanced Wastewater Treatment (AWT) are the three main types of yacht sewage water. Jettisoning one or more of these wastewater categories may either be forbidden or permitted by different countries and regions. As an example, some regions may allow the discharging of sewage water from an MSD and/or an AWT. However, regions such as the Caribbean strictly prohibit all forms of wastewater discharge, even that of AWTs. Superyachts must be prepared to comply with any legislation that a country may have in place if their crews are to avoid potentially costly and environmentally damaging pitfalls, especially when cruising or anchoring in inland waters.

Generally, permitted discharge is restricted to food wastes, but onboard personnel still need to be mindful of how this can be discharged at sea according to MARPOL’s explicit requirements. For example, liquefied waste must be able to pass through a screen with very narrow mesh openings, no larger than 25mm. Once again, this seemingly insignificant ruling presents a situation wherein crews could find that they have unknowingly breached jurisdiction.

As is invariably the case, forewarned is forearmed. It stands to reason that if superyacht captains and crews are fully apprised of international baselines, and are appropriately clued up on MARPOL regulations and regional precepts relating to blackwater discharge in specific sea areas well in advance of entering those waters, the chances of them committing irresponsible and financially ruinous errors are effectively dispensed with. Guaranteed compliance equates to peace of mind.

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