International efforts to reduce marine pollution are bearing fruit, according to a press release issued by INTERPOL on November 13. But it’s a big problem that won’t go away soon. Is it really that bad? Yes. Is it just a problem in U. S. waters? No. It’s international.
Those of us who regularly read environmental reports, especially those involving marine transportation, cannot help but be struck by the frequent reports of criminal prosecutions, often settlements or court orders involving seven figure fines, for falsification of discharge log books and use of mystery pipes discharging waste water to marine waters.
INTERPOL established a global network of law enforcement and environmental agencies, and customs and port authorities, resulting in an international investigative effort code-named “30 Days at Sea” to bring attention to marine pollution. In December 2017, INTERPOL issued its first report of a coordinated enforcement effort by agencies from 43 countries over the month of June 2017. That effort resulted in the detection of 1.5 million tons of illicit waste, and 664 cases, involving 483 individuals and 264 companies.
The coordinated program was repeated in the month of October 2018, with 58 countries participating. 5200 inspections resulted in 185 investigations and detected more than 500 offenses, a slight decrease from 2017. These included discharges of oil and garbage from vessels, shipbreaking, pollution on rivers, and land-based runoff to the sea, with arrests and prosecutions anticipated.
It is often said in response to stories of marine releases, that “it’s a big ocean.” It is a big ocean, but we also live in a highly polluted world. “Small” discharges from ships in the ocean from thousands of vessels and miles of coastline mount up. Polluted beaches and islands of microplastic debris the size of Texas in the open sea have made it clear that dilution is no solution to marine pollution. In the US, the authorities have tried to use multiple criminal prosecutions to deter misconduct. Other countries have also ramped up enforcement. The lower 2018 numbers may suggest some progress. But these two reports make it clear that there is still a ways to go.