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Oil and chemical pollution

image of oil pollution

Some boat operators, deliberately or accidentally, discharge oil and chemicals into our waterways. Most of the oil and chemicals in our waterways come from refuelling, boat maintenance and bilge discharges. Oil and chemicals can be toxic to marine and human life.

It is in everyone's interest to protect our waterways from pollution. All boat operators need to use and dispose of onboard oil and chemicals correctly and safely.

Oil and chemicals on board your boat

Products that are pollutants that will harm the environment:

  • petrol
  • gear box oil
  • motor oil
  • two-stroke oil
  • diesel
  • hydraulic oil
  • cooling system additives
  • cleaning agents
  • degreasers
  • acid and paints.

Once these toxins enter our waterways they have the potential to retard or prevent the reproductive development of many marine animals, which can have a flow-on effect through the whole ecosystem. Contaminated fish stocks and filter feeders such as oysters and mussels can also pass on harmful chemicals to humans, if consumed.

Clean bilges help reduce pollution. Use absorbents to mop up excess oil or fuel, wash your bilge with biodegradable degreasers or detergents and dispose of any cleaning residue ashore.

If oil does spill into the water, use absorbents to mop it up and let the regional harbour master, marina manager or port authority know so that it can be cleaned up as soon as possible. Do not use dispersants or other cleaning chemicals because they can increase the toxic effects of oil spills.

How to handle oil and chemicals

All boat operators need to help reduce oil and chemicals entering our waterways. Here are some tips to help:

  • When refuelling insert the nozzle into the filler before starting the pump. Likewise always turn the pump off and ensure that the flow of fuel has stopped before removing the nozzle.
  • Always check the capacity of fuel tanks before refuelling.
  • Watch the breathers for signs of 'blow-back' or overflow.
  • Do not overfill your fuel tank.
  • Ensure your bilges are clean before discharging.
  • Always supervise the operation of bilge pumps to ensure only water is being pumped into waterways.
  • Revise the installation of your bilge pump's float switch to stop oil accidentally discharging with bilge water.
  • If you use degreasers or detergents, including biodegradable products to clean your bilge, make sure the residue is not discharged into the waterways. 
  • Use absorbents to clean waste oil from your bilge.
  • Repair oil and fuel leaks when first noticed.
  • For everyday deck scrubbing use clean water and only use chemicals for severe staining.
  • Read the product information before you decide on any chemical cleaner. If it is toxic to humans, it is not good for marine life either.
  • Use phosphate free biodegradable detergents.
  • Carry absorbent material onboard to clean up any accidental spills.

If you accidentally discharge oil or chemicals into the water, let the regional harbour master, marina operator or port authority know, so that it may be cleaned up.

Pollution is an offence

Whether your boat is large or small, it is an offence to deliberately discharge oil or chemicals into Queensland's coastal waters. Under the Transport Operations (Marine Pollution) Act 1995 severe penalties apply.

Maximum penalties:

  • $550,000 for an individual
  • $11 million for a corporation.

Reporting marine pollution

Everyone can help protect the marine environment by reporting pollution incidents to their local Maritime Safety Queensland regional office or port authority.

Marine pollution incidents are to be reported by submitting a completed POLREP (Pollution Report) form to Maritime Safety Queensland. This form ensures the authorities receive appropriate information to enable an effective response. Even minor instances of marine pollution should be reported.

Last updated
24 August 2017