The London Convention on Sea Dumping

One of the more complicated issues of world environmental regulation is deciding who has authority and who has responsibility when it comes to protecting the oceans from pollution by dumping at sea.

The difficulty in policing the littering of the oceans by dumping at sea is the uncertainty of jurisdiction.

Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, open ocean for 200 nautical miles around coastal states is called the Exclusive Economic Zone. Outside that area the ocean is called the High Seas. The seabed and ocean floor fall in the same grey area as the High Seas.  The High Seas are international  waters which don’t belong to any one nation.  Since the High Seas are largely without national jurisdiction, the only jurisdiction that applies is the so-called London Convention/London Protocol.

The Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972, commonly called the “London Convention,” is an agreement to control pollution of the sea by dumping and to encourage regional agreements supplementary to the Convention to prevent dumping.  It covers the deliberate disposal at sea of wastes or other matter from vessels, aircraft, and platforms. It does not cover discharges from land-based sources such as pipes and outfalls, wastes generated incidental to normal operation of vessels, or placement of materials for purposes other than mere disposal.  The London Convention went in force in 1975. As of 2005, there were 81 Parties to the Convention.

The main objective of the London Convention and a subsequent amending agreement known as the London Protocol is to prevent indiscriminate disposal at sea of wastes that could become hazards to human health; harming living resources and marine life; damaging amenities; or interfering with other legitimate uses of the sea. The 1972 Convention extends its scope over “all marine waters other than the internal waters” of the States and prohibits the dumping of certain hazardous materials. It further requires a prior special permit for the dumping of a number of other identified materials and a prior general permit for other wastes or matter.

In general, the state whose flag the ship is flying usually has jurisdiction on the high seas.  So wherever the ship is registered, that country has the authority to do something about the waste the ship dumps illegally. The flag state, of course, can only enforce if it has enacted regulations.

A lot more information about ocean dumping.