28 October 2014

Maritime environmental laws needed to combat marine pollution:

ARTICLE 193 of UNCLOS confers upon member States the sovereign right to exploit their natural resources pursuant to their environmental policies and in accordance with their duty to protect and preserve the marine environment, which requires States to take all the measures consistent with UNCLOS to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment from any sources mentioned in this convention. Have we complied with this duty to protect marine environment and obligation to take measures to prevent and control the marine pollution of the Bay of Bengal (BoB) region?

In the National Programme of Action (NPA) 1999 under the Global Programme of Action (GPA) of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), twelve major issues, such as industrial waste (including ship breaking yards); sewage disposal; solid waste management; agrochemicals; deforestation; salinity intrusion; rapid urbanisation; erosion in the coastal zone; coastal tourism; land use change and climate change, have been identified as the main sources of coastal and marine pollution of BoB.

In the international Conference on Marine Environment Aspects of Bangladesh 2010, held in Japan, it was mentioned that around 3.5 million tons of crude and refined oil are imported by Bangladesh, which contributes around six thousand tons of oil to the four hundred thousand tons of annual oil pollution in the BoB. Approximately 1,800 tons of pesticides enter the Bay annually. The web based publication 'World Casualty Statistics' 2011, by IHS Fairplay, the largest five ship recycling countries in the world are India, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey which recycle 97% to 98% of the world's tonnage. Interestingly, of the top three largest ships recycling countries, India and Bangladesh are surrounded by the BoB. It was reported that about 250 kg of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) are released from each ship in the ship breaking yard of Chittagong area. With 90 ships being dismantled each year, the total influx of PCB in Bangladesh could be about 22.5 tons. These toxic chemicals and pesticides are threats to both coastal and marine environment as well as public health.

Human rubbish, including synthetics and plastics, in the oceans and on beaches is called marine debris. It is one of the world's most ubiquitous pollutants affecting the oceans. According to the Global Program Action Report 2005 under UNEP, the quantity of solid waste generated by the costal populations of South Asian Seas (SAS) region is 11,650 tons per day. In Bangladesh, only a fraction of the solid waste generated is collected. It is estimated that about 9,000 metric tons of human waste are released along the coast from Chittagong and Khulna. 

If this pollution continues, it will certainly destroy important habitat and biodiversity; drive many wildlife species near to extinction; destroy mangrove forests; cause the whole ecosystem to become unbalanced and hinder sustainable development. For our survival and sustainable development, it is time to comply with the duty to protect marine environment and adopt laws and regulations to prevent, reduce and control pollution of marine environment.

To combat marine pollution, Bangladesh ratified or signed International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness; Response and Cooperation (London, 1990); Basel Convention on the Control of Trans boundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal (Basel; 1989); United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea, 1982; International Convention Relating to Intervention on the High Seas in  Cases of Oil Pollution Casualties (Brussels, 1969);  and International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil 1973 (MARPOL) as modified by the protocol of  1978. The six annexes of MARPOL (Annex 1 to 6) that are in force in Bangladesh from 2002 cover pollution by oil, chemicals, harmful substances in packaged form, sewage, and garbage. But there is no comprehensive national legislation for enforcement of these conventions.

Some of the laws concerning marine pollution were enacted 100 years ago and have not been updated. For example, the Port Act 1908 was enacted to protect the water of port areas from pollution caused by chronic spillage of oil; dumping of ballast and rubbish; and discharge of bunker water containing oil from vessels. But the penal provisions are not adequate. Section 8 of the Territorial Waters and Maritime Zones Act (TWMZ) 1974 implies that the government may, with a view to preventing and controlling marine pollution and preserving the quality and ecological balance in the marine environment in the high seas adjacent to the territorial waters, take such measures as it may deem appropriate for the purpose. Section 9 of this Act empowers government to make rules in this regard. The Environmental Action Plan adopted in 1992 focuses on coastal and marine environment. It contains 8 plans that have to be implemented by various agencies of the government.

The Environment Conservation Act (ECA) of 1995 (amended 2010), followed by the Environment Conservation Rules (ECR) of 1997, is the umbrella environmental legislation that provides for overall environmental conservation of the country. The above mentioned laws are not suitable for implementing the international conventions ratified by Bangladesh concerning marine pollution.  

Bangladesh government, pursuant to Section 20 of ECA 1995, enacted Ship Breaking and Hazardous Waste Management Rules 2010. Rule 18 of this law calls upon each importer and exporter of hazardous wastes to comply with the provisions of Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, 1989. The Basel Convention focuses on the regulating the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes to protect developing countries from importing such wastes that they are unable to manage in an environmentally sound manner. However, Basel does not establish a system for ship recycling, rather this has been dealt with in the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships 2009. Though Bangladesh is the 3rd largest ship recycling country, it has not ratified the Hong Kong Convention and the observance of this convention has not been mentioned in Ship Breaking and Hazardous Waste Management Rules 2010.

Because of the lack of comprehensive marine environment laws in Bangladesh, there has been little success in preventing and controlling marine pollution. Comprehensive legislation is urgently needed to make international conventions concerning marine environment and marine pollution of the BoB effective. In 2004, the Department of Shipping drafted a Marine Environment Conservation Act 2004. But it has not been enacted. It is hoped that the government will enact comprehensive maritime environmental legislation to protect BoB from marine pollution.

Source: the daily star. 28 October 2014

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