Friday, 9 December 2011

Trafigura and MARPOL


Before you start, I’ll apologise because this post is DRY: it’s the background which then allows me to write an important post in which I will ask if MARPOL is fit for purpose.  In that second post you’ll have the pleasure of meeting the three Carr brothers  - Angus, Billy and Calum.  But first, let’s get the basics done! 

MARPOL is very important to Trafigura, a major charterer of vessels, by enabling its ships to dispose of their normal wastes at any port which is a signatory to MARPOL.  This they can do without notice and at any convenient port.  This facility keeps the world’s shipping moving efficiently.

MARPOL is important to the sea because, without the ease of disposal in port, much more waste would be dumped at sea.

MARPOL is very important to Trafigura in another way but, before I cover that, let me say a little about what MARPOL is.  Rather, let me append what Trafigura has to say.

The handling of ship generated waste, including slops, is regulated by the international convention MARPOL 73/78, [ marine pollution] which is …. one of the most important international marine environmental conventions and it was designed to minimise pollution of the seas, including dumping of oil and exhaust pollution. Its stated object is: ‘to preserve the marine environment through the complete elimination of pollution by oil and other harmful substances and the minimisation of accidental discharge of such substances’.’ [Emphasis is mine]


Under the MARPOL Convention, each state has the obligation to ensure that it has the necessary facilities to handle ships’ waste efficiently and safely and each vessel has to maintain an oil log book detailing movements in its oil cargoes.


All ships flagged under countries that are signatories to MARPOL are subject to its requirements, regardless of where they sail, and member nations are responsible for vessels registered under their respective nationalities.

MARPOL, therefore, ensures that appropriate facilities exist for the disposal of ships waste and once discharged responsibility for the waste switches from the ship to the port and its national requirements.


In the Dutch courts last year, Trafigura argued that the Probo Koala’s waste was produced on board ship and was, thus, subject to MARPOL.  The court disagreed stating caustic washing did not fall under the normal operations of a ship and so MARPOL did not apply. 

In the absence of MARPOL, the BASEL Convention applied and, therefore, the court said, that Trafigura needed an export licence to ship the waste from Amsterdam to Abidjan.  There were other legal arguments.  [If you are a glutton for punishment you can read three of my posts here, here and here]


Trafigura is challenging its conviction in the Dutch courts with a verdict due in mid-December.  Although I argued for BASEL applying and not MARPOL, I concede, based on my limited knowledge, that Trafigura has a strong case if not a compelling one.

If MARPOL were to apply, Trafigura could have disposed of the Probo Koala’s waste at any MARPOL port regardless of whether there were adequate facilities to treat the waste.

That would not seem right even if it were legal and, as I said at the beginning, I’ll explore this in my next post.  Look out for Angus, Billy and Calum Carr!

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