Marine pollution legislation affects those who:

  • wish to dump or deposit any substance at sea

  • discharge sewage or other waste from ships

  • are at risk of causing oil pollution at sea.

Marine pollution is pollution of the marine environment in territorial and international waters. It is subject to a substantial body of national and international law. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is the UN agency responsible for improving maritime safety and preventing pollution from ships.

The main marine pollutants are oil, waste and sewage. Discharges from land-based activities, such as industry, agriculture and wastewater treatment, also impact on the quality of the marine environment.

Discharges to the marine environment in England and Wales are regulated by a system of licensing under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. The corresponding legislation in Scotland is the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 and in Northern Ireland is the Marine Act (Northern Ireland) 2013.

Measures to prevent pollution from ships, such as oil and sewage discharges, are set out in the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

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