5 Ways We Can Manage Maritime Waste in Malaysia

Waste management has traditionally dealt with downstream disposal operations. A life-cycle approach, by contrast, offers a new perspective that involves every phase, i.e., from the prevention and reduction of waste generated to the actual handling of wastes. Waste handling includes the collection, transportation, monitoring, and treatment (re-use, recycle, energy recovery, and final disposal, e.g., landfill) of wastes including the after-care of waste facilities.1

Unsafe management and disposal of ship wastes can readily lead to adverse health consequences. Humans can become exposed directly, both on ship and at port, as a result of contact with waste that has not been managed in a safe manner. Additionally, there is a risk of transforming ship-source marine pollution into land-based pollution.

Exposure can also occur via the environmental transfer of disease-causing organisms or harmful substances due to unsafe disposal. However, waste can be managed and disposed of in ways that can prevent harm from occurring.

Risks of harm arising as a result of improperly managed ship waste are increasing with the greater number of ships in service and the increase in habitation in port areas. Waste streams on ships include sewage, greywater and garbage, as well as effluent from oil/water separators, cooling water, boiler and steam generator blow-down, medical wastes (e.g. health-care wastes, laboratory wastes and veterinary-care wastes), industrial wastewater (e.g. from photo processing) and hazardous waste (radioactive, chemical and biological wastes and unwanted pharmaceuticals).2

Most collected types of marine waste in Malaysia in 2019 (in 1,000s)

Source: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1172631/malaysia-most-collected-types-of-marine-waste/ 


What measures can we take to address maritime waste?

  1. National cooperation

Marine litter and plastic pollution are serious issues in Malaysia. The nation is working to enhance collective efforts towards long-term cooperation to address this challenge. At a regional level, Malaysia plays an active role as a member of the Coordinating body of the Seas of East Asia (COBSEA) and the ASEAN Working Group on Coastal and Marine Environment. These platforms are useful vehicles to strengthen national work on marine debris and plastic pollution.

  1. Policy implementation nationally

National policy-level intervention is also underway, such as the implementation of the ‘Malaysia Roadmap Towards Zero Single Used Plastics, 2018- 2030’ (October 2018).3

  1. Deploy innovative technology

Malaysia is also seeking opportunities to deploy technologies to address the issue of plastic pollution from enforcement to finding alternatives. We must recognise that apart from reduce, recycle and reuse, the focus should also be “replace”, which requires the application of new technologies and alternatives such as environment friendly polymers.

  1. Apply waste management hierarchy  

The management of ship wastes must also follow the waste management hierarchy, that is, the priority order that ranks “waste prevention” as the most desirable option followed by preparation for re-use, recycling, other recovery operations and final disposal. 4

  1. Increase awareness and education

Increasing awareness, education, capacity and resourcing is also considered important to tackle marine plastic pollution at source. The country is working to enhance the cooperation among NGOs, the private sector and international partners, to address the issue holistically, together with the Government. 

Governance of Maritime Waste Management in Malaysia

According to Sea Circular (2020), Malaysia is located in the Indo-Pacific region with its coastlines bordering the Andaman Sea, the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, the Gulf of Thailand, the South China Sea, the Sulu Sea and Sulawesi Sea. The length of the coastline in Malaysia is 8,840 km (2018), and there is a coastal population of 22.9 million. As a maritime nation with resource-rich seas and invaluable mangroves, atolls and coastal areas, the clean and pollution-free seas are a matter of life and death for Malaysia.

Malaysia has responsibilities for the prevention and control of marine pollution both as a coastal state and as a flag state. As a coastal state Malaysia must prevent and regulate all types of pollutants (not only oil) that come from all sources of pollution (vessel-based, land-based, from air space, sea-bed activities, dumping and others) in its entire maritime territory.

Marine pollution, mainly discharge of oil, bunkers, harmful substances, pollutants and wastes from ships and offshore platforms into Malaysian waters and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is governed through the following legislation:

• Merchant Shipping Ordinance 1952
• Merchant Shipping (Liability and Compensation for Oil and Bunker Oil Pollution) Act 1994
• Environmental Quality Act 1974
• Exclusive Economic Zone Act 1984

Merchant Shipping Ordinance 1952
The Act prohibits the discharge of oil or harmful substances by any ship into Malaysian territorial waters and renders persons at fault to fines, imprisonment or both. Harmful substances mean substances which if introduced into the sea are liable to create hazards to human health and harm living resources and marine lift, damage amenities or interfere with the legitimate uses of the sea.

Environmental Quality Act 1974
The Act prohibits the discharge of any kind of waste or pollutants into inland waters and territorial waters. Pollutants are defined widely from natural or artificial substances in solid, liquid or gas form. This includes environmentally hazardous substances as well as any objectionable odour, noise or heat with a propensity to cause pollution directly or indirectly.

Merchant Shipping (Liability and Compensation for Oil and Bunker Oil Pollution) Act 1994
This Act addresses loss and damage caused outside a ship by contamination resulting from the discharge or release of oil or bunker oil from a ship in Malaysian waters. It covers compensation for the impairment of the environment and costs of reasonable measures to be reinstated.

Exclusive Economic Zone Act 1984

Sometimes referred to as EEZ, this Act provides for measures to preserve the environment and addresses marine pollution in waters beyond Malaysian internal waters and territorial seas in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The EEZ covers the sea extending two hundred nautical miles from the baseline at which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured. Any deliberate dumping of wastes or other matter, whether oil or pollutants from vessels, aircrafts, platforms or man-made structures in the EEZ is prohibited. Should any oil or pollutant be discharged into the EEZ, the owner of the vessel, aircraft or the installation from where it escaped from is strictly liable unless they can prove the discharge was necessary and reasonable for the saving of life and property. In any event they shall bear all clean up and costs of removing or mitigating the damage. 1

MARPOL (The International Convention for Prevention of Marine Pollution for Ships): The Ultimate Guide

MARPOL is one of the most important global conventions which safeguards the marine environment against ship pollution. The main objective of what is known as the MARPOL 73/78 Agreement, in force at present, is to achieve the complete elimination of intentional marine environment pollution by hydrocarbons and other harmful substances, and to reduce the accidental discharging of such substances.2

Malaysia is a party to a number of international conventions dealing with marine pollution. As a party, Malaysia is duty bound to comply with these international statutes and to adopt national legislation as necessary in order to implement these conventions within its territory. 

According to the Malaysian bar council, Malaysia needs to regulate all ships flying its national flag to be in strict compliance with safety regulations and requirements under international conventions and International Maritime Organisation (IMO) resolutions for the prevention and control of marine pollution. Tankers registered in Malaysia need to follow requirements under MARPOL 73/78, and the 1990 OPRC Convention (International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation).3

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