• Compliance with Revised MARPOL Annex IV International Sewage Regulations
  • July 16, 2009 | Authors: Jeanne M. Grasso; Jonathan K. Waldron
  • Law Firm: Blank Rome LLP - Washington Office
  • New Development

    On January 1, 2010, the effluent standards and performance test criteria for onboard sewage treatment plants on vessels will go into effect internationally in accordance with the revised MARPOL Annex IV. On June 30, 2009, the Coast Guard announced the availability of the Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (“NVIC”) 1-09, http://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg5/NVIC/pdf/2009/NVIC_1-09.pdf, which provides guidance regarding voluntary compliance with the revised Annex IV requirements, so that owners and operators of U.S.-flag vessels can avoid being subject to foreign port state control actions since the United States is not party to MARPOL Annex IV. The following is the link to the Notice: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/pdf/E9-15485.pdf.


    MARPOL Annex IV entered into force in September 2003. The revisions, effective January 2010, were subsequently adopted by the International Maritime Organization to enhance the initial survey requirements for installed sewage systems, make the sewage discharge standards more stringent, and establish discharge rates for untreated sewage. Currently, vessels flagged by States that are a party to Annex IV carry an International Sewage Pollution Prevention Certificate (“ISPPC”) to demonstrate that the vessel complies with Annex IV requirements. Since the United States is not a party to Annex IV, U.S.-flag vessels now carry a Certificate of Equivalency issued by the U.S. Coast Guard to avoid running afoul of the international regime. Once the revised standards go into effect, the equivalency that existed between Type I and Type II marine sanitation devices will be eliminated, thus creating the potential for adverse port state control action against U.S.-flag vessels. However, U.S.-flag vessels will be eligible to obtain a Statement of Voluntary Compliance (“SOVC”) from the Coast Guard to evidence that the vessel meets the updated Annex IV requirements.

    Revised Annex IV Applicability

    The revisions to Annex IV will be applicable to certain vessels engaged on international voyages that have their keel laid on or after January 1, 2010, or have a sewage treatment plant installed or delivered after that date. U.S.-flag vessels with a keel date prior to January 1, 2010, or a sewage plant installation or delivery prior to this date, may continue to use equipment certified to either the 1976 international effluent standard or the current U.S. standards found in 33 C.F.R. Part 159.

    U.S.-Flag Vessel Survey and SOVC

    A U.S.-flag vessel is subject to an initial survey before the vessel is first put into service or before the SOVC is issued for the first time. In addition, a renewal survey is required every five years. Vessels that make repairs or modifications to their sewage systems during the five-year period will also be subject to reexamination. An SOVC may be obtained from the local Officer in Charge of Marine Inspections or an authorized classification society after a successful onboard survey. An SOVC is valid for five years.

    Foreign-Flag Vessel Reciprocity

    A foreign flag vessel that holds a valid ISPPC issued by its flag administration indicating that the installed sewage treatment system meets either the previous or revised Annex IV requirements will be accepted by the Coast Guard as being in compliance with U.S. standards while operating in waters of the United States.

    Conclusion and Recommendations

    Owners and operators of U.S.-flag vessels subject to MARPOL Annex IV should review this Notice and NVIC 1-09 to ensure they understand the revised Annex IV requirements, as well as the procedure for obtaining a SOVC. This will be necessary to help ensure compliance with the revised Annex IV standards that go into effect on January 1, 2010, and to avoid any adverse port state control action.