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What Do Ships Do With Wastewater?

On Behalf of | Jan 15, 2021 | Admiralty & Maritime Defense

Most shipping vessels produce some form of waste. The environmental effect of vessel discharges can increase nutrient levels in the water that may lead to toxic algal blooms. These blooms expend much of the water’s oxygen, making these zones inhospitable to many fish and sea life. 

Understanding the public health impact

Consuming seafood from these areas can cause human illnesses, especially in areas where fish, shellfish and other seafood sources play a significant part in the community diet. The pollution generated from various ship discharges can cause various health effects in humans and organisms in the gulf and local waterways. Shipowners must understand the difference between the types of wastewater that their vessels may contain:

Graywater: The International Maritime Organization (IMO) defines graywater as the forms of drainage from sinks, showers, laundry and bath basins. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) produced reports that untreated graywater may contain as much or higher fecal coliform concentration as untreated domestic wastewater. Gray water can contain surfactants, toxic chemicals, medication, pathogens and other waste products.

Sewage: Typically, dumping a holding tank’s contents is not permitted within a three-mile limit of US territorial water. Boat owners are required to install marine sanitation devices (MSDs) in any boat with an installed head. These devices are categorized into three separate categories, depending on the type of vessel and its use. The Coast Guard may enforce these regulations. Boat owners with MSDs need to comply with the Clean Water Certification Program to show that their system prevents discharges in Texas waterways. 

Vessel obligations for wastewater discharge

Vessels have to comply with federal regulations pertaining to the Clean Water Act as well as state regulations stemming from the Texas Clean Water Act. Those operating a ship in the Gulf and other areas must be aware of the potential repercussions for illegal wastewater discharges.