Is there any treaty or international law that tries to regulate how to handle sea waste (most of it human feces)? It would be crazy if human waste was dumped onto the sea without treating it first to remove most of the pollutant inside human waste. Is there any treaty or international law that regulate how waste is dumped into the sea from a ship and does it also include military ships?

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    Do you mean "human waste" as in poop or literally any waste that is produced by humans? Your usage of "sea waste" makes it unclear to me. Jul 13, 2021 at 22:07
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    The short answer is "yes" but the long answer is obviously longer and more complicated.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 13, 2021 at 22:10
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    Why is it so crazy to dump it in the sea as is? Isn't that how all the other animals in the sea do it?
    – JJJ
    Jul 13, 2021 at 23:26
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    ^ Human excrement is probably about the least bad pollutant. Ecosystems know how to handle urine and feces from all kinds of species. It gets bad when there's too much in a small area and disrupts the equilibrium, and we keep it away from other humans so that humans don't spread diseases to each other. Jul 14, 2021 at 8:27
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    And a dumping from a ship likely creates a temporary local algae bloom, but not near the scale that causes major issues Jul 14, 2021 at 8:45

1 Answer 1


Is there any treaty or international law that tries to regulate how to handle sea waste?

International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL)

Annex IV Prevention of Pollution by Sewage from Ships (entered into force 27 September 2003)

Contains requirements to control pollution of the sea by sewage; the discharge of sewage into the sea is prohibited, except when the ship has in operation an approved sewage treatment plant or when the ship is discharging comminuted and disinfected sewage using an approved system at a distance of more than three nautical miles from the nearest land; sewage which is not comminuted or disinfected has to be discharged at a distance of more than 12 nautical miles from the nearest land.

Annex V Prevention of Pollution by Garbage from Ships (entered into force 31 December 1988)

Deals with different types of garbage and specifies the distances from land and the manner in which they may be disposed of; the most important feature of the Annex is the complete ban imposed on the disposal into the sea of all forms of plastics.

... and does it also include military ships?

It seems unlikely that any nation would ratify a convention that allowed the International Maritime Organization to write rules governing that nation's military ships.

  • So to directly answer OP's question, once you're 12 miles out from shore you're free to dump raw sewage into the ocean to your hearts content
    – divibisan
    Jul 13, 2021 at 22:47
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    @divibisan - That appears to be the case. Note that not all annexes have been ratified by all countries. The U.S. has not ratified Annex IV, for example.
    – Rick Smith
    Jul 13, 2021 at 22:54
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    There's a reason that landlocked countries such as Mongolia and Bolivia have a lot of registered ships. And then there's Panama, The Bahamas, Italy, Nigeria. It doesn't really matter that the US has not ratified Annex IV. Those other countries, used as flags of convenience, don't care one bit about any parts of MARPOL. Jul 14, 2021 at 10:56
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    @DavidHammen - Yet, Mongolia, Bolivia (except Annex VI), Panama, The Bahamas, Italy, and Nigeria have ratified the annexes of MARPOL. OTOH, Paraguay and Niger have not ratified any parts of MARPOL. For Hispaniola, Dominican Republic, all Annexes, and Haiti, none. It appears to be more a willingness to take up the issues than location.
    – Rick Smith
    Jul 14, 2021 at 12:02

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