Maritime’s Deadly Sins

According to the Christian Bible, gluttony, one’s desire to eat or drink excessively, is one of seven deadly sins. Pride, greed, lust, envy, wrath and slothfulness make up the rest
19 Jul 2017 11:07
Maritime’s Deadly Sins

According to the Christian Bible, gluttony, one’s desire to eat or drink excessively, is one of seven deadly sins.

Pride, greed, lust, envy, wrath and slothfulness make up the rest of the sins deemed to be excessive versions of one’s natural faculties or passions.

Not quite sins in the biblical sense, but historically the maritime industry, particular when referring to shipping, can commit 11 sins while transporting 90% of the world’s trade goods, utilizing the world’s oceans.

While sinners face the wrath of God for sinning, the 11 in the maritime industry are monitored and policed by a world maritime community, spearheaded by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

The sins are mainly committed to the environment, stemming from the necessary evils of man’s desire for globalization by transportation of goods quickly from port-to-port.

Unnoticed for a long time, ignored since the advent of steel ships powered by fossil fuels, the pollution, and the pollutants, now have a big brother watching – and the maritime community is taking the guilty sinners to task.

IMO has several instruments in the form of Conventions to protect the environment.

Policed by the marine administrations worldwide, through regulations and design changes of vessels, IMO and the world maritime community ensures that the shipping industry protects the environment while serving the global economy.

Number One: Oil Pollution

Leading the pack of 11 are the by-products of “Back Gold “.

Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) is relatively cheap and suitable for combustion on large marine diesel engines.


The tar-like substance from the bottom of the cracking tower is a potential polluter through:

By-products of cleaning the fuel before it is injected into the engine.

Accidental discharge when transferring shore-to-ship or tank-to-tank.

Accidental discharge when collision or foundering (filling with water and sinking) occurs.


The first of the three listed, in the form of sludge, is usually retained on board and disposed of in one of two methods:

  1. Incineration (burning on board)
  2. Transfer to shore facilities while in port.

Both can cause further damage if not monitored and controlled. Incineration can cause air pollution and there is always a danger of accidental discharge while the transfer of sludge-to-shore.

It is known that most incidents are due to human error and maritime training and education play a big part in controlling and mitigating these sins.

Incidents such as the recent foundering of the vessels in Suva harbour a potential oil pollution disaster avoided with timely action. Credit must be given all those involved removing oil from the sunken vessel.


More sins

There is a fourth element in the pollution by oil: Drainage from machinery, a mixture of lubrication oil and fuel oil which finds its way to the bottom of the dungeon of the engine room. Bilges are the receptacles of this oily water mix. In a poorly maintained engine room, this could be quite a problem.


MARPOL to the rescue

MARPOL 73/78 is the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, (1973 as modified by the Protocol of 1978).

Before the advent of MARPOL, oily water mix was discharged directly into the sea. It was not unusual to see dirty oil slick following a vessel making a dark line in the ocean.

MARPOL Annex I covers the requirements of how to deal with this pollutant.

While it is not the intention of this article to describe the regulations, it is worthwhile mentioning that the oily water should be filtered and the discharge water can only contain 15 parts per million of oil.

The discharge is subject to the type and location of the ship and whether it is on route.


Big fines

On 1 December 2016, the Princess Cruise Line was fined $40 million for illegally discharging oily water through a “Magic Pipe” (BBC News). As a reward for dobbing on his mates, the “whistle-blower” received a princely sum of 800,000 euros.

A “Magic Pipe” enables the engineers to bypass the filtering equipment and pump the oily water directly overboard thus not following MARPOL regulations.

Needless to say much has been achieved through regulation and education to combat oil pollution, but there are ten more sins to deal with in future articles.


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