WASHINGTON - Federal agencies and states should do more to enforce laws restricting ocean disposal of solid wastes by marine vessels, according to a National Research Council study. Eight years after the Senate ratified an international agreement on the disposal of trash from ships, large amounts of debris still wash up on the nation's coasts, the council said.
More than 840,000 tons of garbage is generated each year by oceangoing vessels, which include cargo, cruise and U.S. Navy ships, and commercial fishing and recreational boats.
While the extent of ships' contribution to marine pollution is uncertain, Coast Guard officers often find no trash, separated plastics or incinerator ash on ships that obviously produce large amounts of garbage. Only a minority of ships dispose of their waste at port facilities.
Plastic waste is a particular concern because marine wildlife can get entangled in it, causing death and injury. Annex V of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships bans the ocean disposal of all plastics. Dumping of other solid wastes is prohibited or restricted based on how far a vessel is from shore.
The research council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, urged Congress to create a new national commission to oversee enforcement of the treaty and the federal law that implements it. Enforcement today is spotty, largely because several federal agencies divide up the responsibilities.