Published on Australian Maritime Safety Authority (

Discharges in emergencies

Maritime discharges of oil and noxious liquid substances during emergencies and pollution response situations.

You must be aware of the laws and requirements on maritime discharges of oil, oily mixtures and noxious liquid substances (NLS) during emergency situations and when responding to certain pollution incidents.

Australia generally prohibits discharges from vessels into the sea of oil, oily mixtures and NLS, discharges of these substances are permitted under specific circumstances. It's important that you are aware of these circumstances and requirements if you are in an emergency or response situation.

Australian arrangements and law

Australia has implemented the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), which prohibits discharging oil, oily mixtures, and NLS from a vessel into the sea except under specific circumstances. The Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983 allows an oily mixture to be discharged to minimise the damage from pollution when the action has been approved by AMSA.

Approval by AMSA will be specific to a particular incident.

A form is not required but a full explanation of the situation will assist the person assessing the situation, including:

This applies to all Australian waters except where the state or territory has its own legislation.

Discharge of oily water into the sea from land-based activities and facilities

Discharge from a land-based storage facility (tank, container, drum, etc) to the sea is subject to the specific pollution laws of the local jurisdiction (Commonwealth, state or territory).

There are technologies which can separate water from oil to make sure each is disposed of appropriately.

In remote areas oily water storage and waste oil may be a problem. Plan ahead to minimise any logistical and infrastructure issues.

There are oily water disposal methods that allow oily water to be discharged to land (eg land-farming) or to the sea. These methods may involve risks or lead to environmental impacts and are likely to require regulatory approval by the relevant authority before implementing. This will usually be the state or territory environment protection agency.

Related information

Last updated: 13 August 2020