Recent attention to the risks around boat sewage in Tasmania has prompted a review of laws on the discharge of sewage from vessels in State waters.
Director EPA Alex Schaap has been examining the legislation in the wake of renewed public interest to the issue of sewage discharged from vessels, including concern about public health risks.
"The Pollution of Waters by Oil and Noxious Substances Act 1987 deals with the discharge of sewage from vessels in Tasmanian waters, but the law as it stands is complex; interacting with both national laws and international treaty provisions," Mr. Schaap said.
"I am now satisfied that, contrary to some earlier interpretations, the discharge of sewage from a vessel into State waters is effectively prohibited other than in cases of emergency or in oceanic waters."
Mr. Schaap said the prohibition has effect through section 25CB of the Act.
"While it appears that the original intent of that provision may have been directed at larger ocean-going vessels, it is clear that it applies to all vessels," Mr. Schaap said.
"There is no mechanism available to offer any exemption from this prohibition and therefore boat owners must not discharge sewage from their vessels into State waters."
"The EPA is urging boat owners to comply with the law. Officers from the EPA Division will deal with reported cases appropriately according to the circumstances," Mr. Schaap said.
Sewage discharges can have a number of effects. They pose a health threat to people swimming and sewage can also contaminate shellfish beds and aquaculture leases.
"The rules around Australia vary but untreated sewage discharge is generally prohibited in inshore and sheltered waters, near swimmers and near marine farms," Mr. Schaap said.
"Some States do allow discharge from small vessels in lower risk areas and such a risk based system may be something we can consider here in the longer term."
"Any changes to the current prohibition would however require amendment of the legislation and that is a matter for State Parliament to consider."
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Frequently Asked Questions
Links to related documents on this topic from other jurisdictions are included below:
Code of Practice for Vessel and Facility Management (Marine and Inland Waters) 2008
Available on the EPA South Australia Codes of Practice page
Further information: Black and grey water management
Transport and Main Roads - Options for sewage legislation compliance - Ships other than declared ships, 2018 (pdf, 396KB)
Maritime Safety Queensland - Sewage
New South Wales
Roads and Maritime Services - Vessel Waste Disposal
Department of Transport - Pollution and sewage regulations
Recreational boating safety handbook