Surfers Against Sewage

New regulations that prevent sewage pollution from ships came into force yesterday in the UK.

The regulations will help the UK control a shipping industry, which the Government believes could be responsible for 5% of all coastal sewage pollution incidents.

This is welcome news to the campaigners at Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) who have been concerned by the length of time it has taken for international agreements made by MARPOL on ‘prevention of pollution by sewage from ships’ to be transposed into UK law.

The new law targets ships that are over 400 gross tonnes (GT) in weight or those less than 400GT that are certified to carry more than 15 people. It only applies to those UK flagged ships that leave the UK on international voyages but will also apply to similar ships, which are not UK flagged, if they are in UK waters.

One industry where there will have to be wholescale changes is the cruise ships industry. For too long cruise ships were able to travel the oceans with plumes of raw sewage in their brown wake but the new legislation will help prevent this in the future.

Raw sewage from cruise ships is similar to standard sewage from the land. It contains bacteria and viruses hazardous to humans, can reduce the oxygen levels in the water, can cloud water preventing light reaching the sea bed (essential for most coral growth) and can introduce harmful levels of nutrients to the environment which could lead to potentially toxic algal blooms.

A typical cruise ship today carries around 2,000 passengers, 900 crew and producing 25,000 gallons of human waste a day! Cruises have become a lot more affordable and increasing leisure time means they are becoming an annual fixture in the holiday plans of millions of people. Many UK ports are expecting to see an increase in cruise ship visits this year.

Newly built cruise ships will have already fitted on board state-of-the-art sewage treatment plants, so it is now just the older, smaller cruise ships that are upgrading before they will get issued with sewage prevention certificates.

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SAS are urging recreational water users in Kent and East Sussex to take extra care when using the sea over the next few days as timber lost from the Russian owned cargo ship ‘Sinegorsk’ could be washed ashore.

The 1,500 tonnes of timber was washed off the ship and into the sea on Monday. It could yet lead to scenes reminiscent of last January when more than 2,000 tonnes of timber washed up along the Sussex coast after the Greek-registered Ice Prince sank about 26 miles south of Dorset. 

Lost shipping cargo can represent a threat to public health, cause pollution and a long-lasting litter issue. SAS is increasingly concerned about the rising impact shipping cargo loss is having on our coastline.

We are currently investigating the number of shipping containers lost each year in UK waters in an attempt to assess the ongoing damage they have on the water environment. Worldwide it is estimated as many as 10,000 shipping containers are lost overboard each year, but to date the UK Government seems reluctant to account for the number of shipping containers lost in recent years and what their loads were.

Litter tracked back to shipping container loss is a regular occurrence on the beaches close to SAS’s headquarters. Indeed SAS are still finding many of the ‘Baxters’ medical drip bags washing up in Cornwall a year after they were lost from the MV Endeavor whilst en route from Ireland to Spain.

We’re also collecting thousands of plastic resin pellets (often nicknamed mermaids tears), which have escaped into the marine environment through a combination of shipping container loss and discharge from factories into watercourses, and storm drains.

Undoubtedly bad weather can play a major part in ships losing their cargo but it can also be caused by poor loading practices and fast ‘dock turnaround’ times which can lead to shortcuts in securing cargo properly.

There is also a huge amount of pressure on ship skippers to make their destination on time. Often there is very little leeway on arrival times so ships have to plough-on into bad weather, rather than a more precautionary approach of skirting around it.

For now, SAS urge water users to be vigilant. The last thing you want to do is duck dive into ones of those sawn timber planks!

Adopt a Beach Program

The Adopt-A-Beach Program gives people of all ages the opportunity to learn about and participate in the conservation of our coastal resources. Specifically, windsurfers surfers and recreational water users are encouraged to give something back to the marine environments that are so crucial for their pursuits.

The grounds for concern derive from water pollution problems that are caused by everyday people doing every day things.

Rain scours oil from parking lots, fertilizer from lawns, pet droppings from sidewalks and other contaminants from "non-point" sources transports this toxic stew down storm drains and over land into the ocean.

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