MARPOL Annex V exceptions and penalties

There are few exceptions to the prohibition of garbage discharge under MARPOL. Breaches can result in significant penalties.


Exceptions to the regulations apply under these limited circumstances.

General garbage

  • When the discharge of garbage is necessary to secure the safety of a vessel and those on board, or to save life at sea.
  • When a vessel accidentally discharges garbage as a result of damage. This only applies if the vessel has taken all reasonable precautions before and after the damage occurred. Vessels must try to prevent or minimise the accidental loss of garbage.

Fishing gear

  • When a vessel accidentally loses fishing gear. This is only as long as the vessel has taken all reasonable precautions to prevent the loss.
  • When the discharge of fishing gear from a vessel is necessary for the: 
    • protection of the marine environment
    • safety of that vessel or its crew.

When you can’t retrieve your fishing gear

You must report your lost gear if it poses a significant threat to the marine environment or navigation. Fishing gear includes:

  • nets
  • long lines
  • fish traps
  • any human-made contraptions designed to catch fish.

Contact the nearest port authority or our Response Centre on 1800 641 792 and report:

  • the approximate position of the gear
  • reasons for the loss.

We can broadcast safety information if there is a significant risk to navigation. 

Fishing vessel operators must also record the discharge or loss of fishing gear in either:

  • the garbage record book
  • the vessel’s official logbook.

We recommend checking with states/the Northern Territory and port authorities. You also need to be aware of any local regulations that may apply in specific circumstances.


There are substantial penalties for MARPOL breaches in the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983. 

If you are caught wrongfully discharging or causing the discharge of garbage from any vessel into the sea in Australia, you may be fined or prosecuted in accordance with state, territory, or federal regulations, depending on the location of the offence. 

Federal penalties can exceed $626,000.

Last updated: 14 November 2023