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WORLD MARITIME DAY- 2023: MARPOL AT 50- OUR COMMITMENT GOES ON Every drop in the ocean counts”


Yoko Ono

The world’s oceans, covering more than 70% of the Earth’s surface, have long been a source of fascination, trade, and exploration. These vast expanses of water have been essential to human civilization, enabling global trade, travel, and connectivity. World maritime day is celebrated each year on 28 September, to emphasize the critical significance of shipping safety, maritime security, and the preservation of the marine environment. This significant day commemorates the adoption of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Convention on March 6, 1958, which established the IMO, a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for regulating shipping. Each year, World Maritime Day revolves around a specific theme, focusing on various aspects of the maritime industry. The theme for this year’s World Maritime Day, “MARPOL at 50 – our commitment goes on,” underscores the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) extensive track record in safeguarding the environment from the adverse effects of shipping through a robust regulatory framework. It also highlights the IMO’s enduring dedication to this crucial mission. The theme specifically draws attention to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), which addresses the prevention of marine environmental pollution by ships from operational or accidental causes.

Additionally, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, or MARPOL, holds a central position in maritime law and environmental protection. It was adopted in 1973 and entered into force in 1978. Over the past five decades, MARPOL has undergone several amendments and annexes, making it one of the most important international treaties addressing the prevention of pollution from ships. MARPOL encompasses six main annexes, each dealing with specific aspects of ship-source pollution: Annex I – Prevention of Pollution by Oil: This annex sets strict regulations for the discharge of oil and oily mixtures from ships. Annex II- Control of Pollution by Toxic Liquid Substances in Bulk: it governs the discharge of harmful chemicals and substances carried in bulk. Annex III- Prevention of Pollution by Harmful Substances Carried by Sea in Packaged Form: it addresses the packaging and labeling of harmful substances transported by sea. Annex IV- Prevention of Pollution by Sewage from Ships: this annex regulates the discharge of sewage from ships. Annex V- Prevention of Pollution by Garbage from Ships: it covers the disposal of garbage, plastics, and other solid waste at sea. Annex VI- Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships: it addresses air emissions from ships, including sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions.

Furthermore, this theme serves as a catalyst for vital discussion concerning the future trajectory of the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) endeavors to fortify planet’s safeguarding and the preservation of its oceans. This theme is intricately intertwined with the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These encompass a spectrum of critical objectives, such as ensuring affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), fostering industry, innovation, and infrastructure (SDG 9), addressing climate change and sustainably managing oceans, seas, and marine resources (SDGs 13 and 14), as well as recognizing the paramount importance of partnerships and effective implementation to realize these aspirations (SDG 17). In essence, the theme underscores the imperative of aligning maritime practices with these global sustainability goals, thereby affirming the maritime community’s unwavering commitment to a better, more sustainable future for our planet and its precious oceans.

Moreover, the concept of ‘marine safety’ addresses the safety of ships and maritime installations with the primary purpose of protecting maritime professionals and the marine environment. Marine safety in the first place implies the regulation of the construction of vessels and maritime installations, the regular control of their safety procedures as well as the education of maritime professionals in complying with regulations. Marine safety is closely linked to the work of the International Maritime Organization and its Maritime Safety Committee which acts as the core international body for developing rules and regulations.

In addition to it, safety concerns are core to maritime security given that it may involve environmental and cultural interests. Marine safety has also been increasingly linked to maritime security given that the maritime industry, shipping companies and their employees are simultaneously potential targets (e.g. of pirates, terrorists, or criminals) as well as potential perpetrators (by engaging in maritime crimes such as trafficking of persons, illicit goods or weapons or in collaborating with violent actors). Maritime security is however also linked to economic development. Throughout history the oceans were always of vital economic importance.

Besides, ships have significant impacts on marine pollution through various activities and sources of pollution including oil spills- accidental oil spills from ships can be catastrophic for marine environments. These spills often occur during refueling, oil transfer operations, or as a result of accidents, and they release oil into the ocean, harming marine life and coastal ecosystems. Air Pollution- ships emit air pollutants, including sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulate matter, which can contribute to acid rain, smog, and damage to marine ecosystems when these pollutants are deposited into the ocean. Ballast Water- ships use ballast water to stabilize their vessels during transit. However, this water can contain invasive species from one location and introduce them to new ecosystems when discharged at another port, disrupting local marine ecosystems. To address these issues, international regulations and conventions, such as the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO)- MARPOL and Ballast Water Management Convention, have been established to control and reduce the environmental impacts of shipping. These regulations aim to minimize pollution from ships through measures such as wastewater treatment systems, emission controls, and antifouling paint restrictions, among others. However, continued efforts are needed to ensure sustainable shipping practices and protect marine environments from pollution.

In a nutshell, World Maritime Day serves as a reminder of the maritime industry’s enduring importance and its commitment to sustainable practices. MARPOL, at 50, remains a cornerstone of maritime law, ensuring that shipping activities are carried out responsibly and in harmony with the environment. As we celebrate this day, we acknowledge the pivotal role of conventions like MARPOL in shaping a more sustainable and interconnected world, where the oceans remain a source of wonder, prosperity, and environmental preservation.

To mark World Maritime Day, Pakistan Navy is organizing seminars/ webinars to engage both the public and stakeholders in meaningful discussions about maritime conservation. These initiatives serve as platforms for experts, environmentalists, and maritime enthusiasts to come together and share knowledge, ideas, and best practices in pollution prevention. By fostering a culture of responsibility and awareness, the Pakistan Navy plays a vital role in ensuring that the significance of World Maritime Day resonates not just within its ranks but also throughout the nation, reinforcing the collective commitment to protect our oceans and promote sustainable maritime activities.

Anum Sultan, independent writer, M. Phil International Relations

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