The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is the United Nations agency responsible for preventing vessel-sourced marine pollution.

The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) is the main international convention used by the IMO to address pollution from vessels. Annex V of MARPOL concerns the prevention of pollution by garbage and applies to all vessels. It covers all garbage generated during normal operations, such as plastics, fishing gear, food, and cargo residues.

MARPOL Annex V currently prohibits plastic discharge from ships and requires reports of lost and discharged fishing gear that poses a significant threat to the marine environment or navigation to be made to the vessel's Administration and the coastal State where the loss or discharge occurred.

Australia implements MARPOL Annex V through the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983 (POTS Act), the Navigation Act 2012 and Marine Order 95. In addition, most state and territory jurisdictions give effect to MARPOL Annex V in their legislation.

IMO actions to address marine plastic litter

In 2018, the IMO adopted an Action Plan to Address Marine Plastic Litter from Ships (the IMO Action Plan). This was in response to growing global concerns about the impact of plastic litter on the marine environment and human health. The IMO Action Plan aims to enhance existing MARPOL regulations and introduce new measures to further reduce marine plastic litter from vessels by 2025.

Two of the actions within the IMO Action Plan concern fishing gear. These are to:

  • consider making mandatory, through an appropriate IMO instrument (e.g., MARPOL Annex V), the marking of fishing gear in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO). (Action 2 from the IMO Action Plan)
  • consider extending the reporting requirement in regulation 10.6 of MARPOL Annex V to include reporting data on discharge or loss of fishing gear by the flag State to IMO via the Global Integrated Shipping Information System or other means if appropriate (Action 22 from the IMO Action Plan).