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Sewage

Legislative overview

Legislative requirements for ship-sourced sewage in Queensland are detailed in the Transport Operations (Marine Pollution) Act 1995 (the Act) and the Transport Operations (Marine Pollution) Regulation 2018 (the Regulation).

The main objective of the Act is to protect Queensland's marine and coastal environment from deliberate and negligent discharges of ship-sourced pollutants into coastal waters. Sewage discharges are of concern as a form of ship-sourced pollution.

Types of sewage

Sewage means:

  • drainage and other wastes from any form of toilets and urinals
  • drainage from medical premises (dispensary, sick bay and so on) via wash basins, wash tubs and scuppers located in such premises
  • drainage from spaces containing living animals
  • other waste waters when mixed with the drainages defined above. 

Sewage includes human faecal wastes. 

Sewage under Queensland legislation does not include grey water (waste water from showers and sinks) unless it is mixed with any of the above. 

Untreated sewage

Untreated sewage (or raw sewage) is all sewage that has not passed through a treatment system. This is sewage that is discharged directly from a toilet into a waterway (in areas where discharge is permitted) or contained in an on-board holding tank. Any untreated sewage that is discharged, in areas where the discharge of untreated sewage is permitted, must first pass through a macerator. Macerated sewage is untreated sewage.

Treated sewage

Treated sewage is sewage that has passed through an on-board sewage treatment system and has three distinct grades, that is, Grade A, Grade B and Grade C treated sewage. Grade C is the lowest level of treatment, Grade B is a higher level of treatment and Grade A is the highest level of treatment.

Sewage treatment system

A sewage treatment system is a system for treating sewage that can reduce the levels of sewage quality characteristics below the levels outlined in the legislation for the relevant grade of treatment for that particular system (that is Grade A, B or C treated sewage) and conforms with the standards for a sewage treatment system outlined in the legislation. 

The owner and master of a ship fitted with a sewage treatment system operating in Queensland's coastal waters must ensure that the treatment system:

  1. is maintained, at least, at the intervals and in the way required by the system service manual for the treatment system
  2. is assessed by analysing sewage after it has been treated in the sewage treatment system, by an independent testing entity#, to ensure that it continues to treat the sewage to the levels for the grade of treated sewage stated in schedule 5 of TOMPR
  3. the sample used for assessment must not be diluted after it has been treated in the treatment system
  4. the assessments must be undertaken at the following intervals after the sewage treatment system has been fitted to the ship:
    1. for declared ships:
      • at least annually for the first 2 years 
      • afterwards, at least every 2 years.
    2. for all other ships (other than declared ships):
      • at least once in the first 5 years 
      • afterwards, at least every 2 years.
  5. has a durable label attached to the treatment system which states the manufacturer’s name, address, the type and model number of the treatment system
  6. is installed in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions
  7. has an indicator fitted on the sewage treatment system showing if it is malfunctioning
  8. is fitted with a macerator in-line prior to the waste entering the sewage treatment system.

# An independent testing entity is an entity that is accredited by the National Association of Testing Authorities as competent to perform the analyses required for Grade A, Grade B or Grade C treated sewage and performs such analyses in Australia.

A sewage treatment system must meet very specific criteria and perform a complex process. As such, the simple act of throwing a handful of chlorine (or some other chemical) into the toilet bowl before flushing or passing sewage through a macerator before discharge does not meet the requirements for a treatment system.

Owners and masters should be aware that sewage from a treatment system that fails an assessment is not classed as treated sewage and must be discharged in accordance with the nil discharge requirements for untreated sewage. This must be incorporated into the shipboard sewage management plan of any declared ship that does not carry a current assessment report showing that the system has passed the necessary requirements.

Documents to be kept on-board ships fitted with sewage treatment systems

The owner and master of a ship operating in Queensland’s coastal waters and fitted with a treatment system must ensure the following documentation is kept on-board and readily available for inspection:

  1. sewage treatment system documentation from the manufacturer or supplier stating:
    1. the performance specifications of the sewage treatment system under normal operating conditions
    2. the name of the independent testing entity that performed the assessment
    3. the date and results of the assessment.
  1. sewage treatment system service manual for assessment which includes:
    1. operating instructions
    2. maintenance schedules and requirements
    3. authorised service providers.
  1. service records about the maintenance or assessment of the treatment system which includes:
    1. for maintenance of the treatment system:
      1. the name of the authorised service provider that performed the maintenance; and
      2. the date the maintenance was performed and details of any significant maintenance carried out on the treatment system.
    2. for an assessment of the treatment system:
      1. the name of the independent testing entity that performed the assessment
      2. the date and results of the assessment.

Penalties apply for non-compliance.

Types of vessels

All vessels are defined as either of the following 2 categories: (i) a declared ship or (ii) a ship other than a declared ship.

Declared ship 

A declared ship has a fixed toilet and is:

  • a domestic commercial vessel with a certificate of operation issued, or taken to be issued, under the Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Act 2012 stating it is a class 1B, 1C, 1D, 1E, 4C, 4D or 4E ship, or
  • an other Queensland regulated ship regulated under the Transport Operations (Marine Safety) Act 1994 and Transport Operations (Marine Safety) Regulation 2016 designed to carry more than 12 passengers.

In recognition of their potentially greater sewage generating capacity, declared ships must adhere to more stringent sewage discharge requirements. These include:

  • the ship must be fitted with a sewage holding device
  • the ship must carry a sewage disposal record book
  • the ship must have a shipboard sewage management plan
  • if the ship is fitted with a treatment system, records must be kept for all assessment and maintenance of the treatment system.

Ship other than a declared ship

A ship other than a declared ship is all other ships, and includes:

  • all recreational ships
  • domestic commercial vessels with a certificate of operation issued, or taken to be issued, under the Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Act 2012 stating it is a class 2 or 3
  • other Queensland regulated ships regulated under the Transport Operations (Marine Safety) Act 1994 and Transport Operations (Marine Safety) Regulation 2016 designed to carry up to 12 passengers.

Types of waters

The sewage legislation makes reference to several major waterway types. These include:

Prohibited discharge waters

Prohibited discharge waters are those waters where it is illegal to discharge any sewage (either treated or untreated). These include the waters of a boat harbour, a canal, a marina, and the following designated areas:

  • the marine national park zone described in the Marine Parks (Moreton Bay) Zoning Plan 2008
  • the Noosa River
  • the marine national park zone, under the Marine Parks (Great Sandy) Zoning Plan 2006, located near Burkitt’s Reef, Hoffman’s Rocks or Barolin Rock, adjacent to the Woongarra Coast
  • an area within the Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park described in schedule 6 of the Transport Operations (Marine Pollution) Regulation 2018.

Prohibited discharge waters form part of the larger ‘nil discharge waters’.

Smooth waters

Smooth waters are the designated smooth water limits of Queensland’s coastal waters and include the waters of rivers, creeks, streams and lakes, and the waters within breakwaters or revetments. Under the sewage provisions of the legislation, smooth waters do not include those waters within partially smooth waters that are within ½ nautical mile (nm) from land or prohibited discharge waters.

Hervey Bay waters

Hervey Bay waters are the waters of Hervey Bay, other than prohibited discharge waters.

Northern Moreton Bay waters

Northern Moreton Bay waters are the waters of Moreton Bay, other than prohibited discharge waters.

Open waters

Open waters are Queensland's coastal waters, other than Hervey Bay waters, northern Moreton Bay waters, prohibited discharge waters, and smooth waters.

Nil discharge waters

Nil discharge waters are waters where the discharge of sewage is not permitted. The discharge restrictions for nil discharge waters are based upon the type of sewage being discharged (that is treated or untreated sewage) and the type of vessel from which the sewage is being discharged (that is a declared ship or any other ship).

Various nil discharge requirements apply in:

  • prohibited discharge waters
  • smooth waters
  • Hervey Bay waters
  • northern Moreton Bay waters
  • open waters.

The nil discharge requirements for the different types of sewage and vessels are as follows:

Types of discharges

Prohibited discharge waters are waters where it is strictly prohibited to discharge any sewage. By definition, these waters actually form part of the larger designated nil discharge waters.

The discharge requirements for the remaining areas of nil discharge waters, (that is outside prohibited discharge waters) are as follows:

  • it is illegal to discharge any untreated sewage from any ship into any nil discharge waters.
  • treated sewage may only be discharged beyond the relevant precautionary discharge distances from sensitive areas.

There are 3 levels of sewage quality characteristics for treated sewage.

Grade C is the lowest level of treatment and restrictions apply to where Grade C sewage may be discharged. Grade C discharges may occur outside of prohibited discharge waters provided that such discharges occur more than ½ nautical mile (926 m) from sensitive areas (that is, a person in the water, aquaculture fisheries resources (such as an oyster lease), or a reef).

Grade B is a higher level of treatment and restrictions apply to where Grade B sewage may be discharged. Grade B discharges may occur outside of prohibited discharge waters provided that discharges occur more than 700m from sensitive areas (that is, a person in the water, aquaculture fisheries resources (such as an oyster lease) or reef).

Grade A is the highest form of sewage treatment and in recognition of this fact, there are no precautionary discharge distances applicable (where discharge is allowed). Therefore, Grade A treated sewage may be lawfully discharged into all waters outside of prohibited discharge waters. Grade A sewage treatment systems allow the greatest flexibility for vessel operators to comply with the various sewage discharge requirements.

Ship-sourced sewage discharge restriction maps have been developed showing the various nil and prohibited discharge waters for several popular boating destinations in Queensland.

It should be noted that the practice colloquially known as ‘bucket and chuck it’ (that is using a bucket for a toilet and then transferring the contents into the water) is a discharge of untreated sewage. As such, to be lawful, any discharge of this type must occur outside of nil discharge waters for untreated sewage.

Grade A/International Maritime Organization MARPOL sewage treatment systems

It should be noted that a sewage treatment system that has an International Maritime Organization (IMO) type approval and the relevant supporting documentation is deemed to comply with the Queensland requirements for a Grade A sewage treatment system. As such, these systems may be lawfully installed and operated in accordance with the requirements for a Grade A sewage treatment system.

A listing of IMO type approved sewage treatment systems (also referred to as sewage treatment plants) can be obtained by contacting the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on their website IMO Global Integrated Shipping Information System.

Advice on the grade of a particular sewage treatment system (or any other relevant sewage treatment matter) should be obtained from the system manufacturers and/or their agents or distributors.

Sewage management options

The legislative requirements stipulate where sewage discharges cannot occur (that is, nil discharge waters) and offers boaters a variety of sewage management alternatives to achieve compliance with nil discharge provisions.

The available sewage management options include:

  • the use of onshore facilities (such as public toilets)
  • the use of an on-board portable toilet for later disposal ashore or in open waters where discharge is permitted
  • the use of an on-board sewage holding tank for later disposal ashore where pumpout facilities are provided or in open waters where discharge is permitted
  • the use of an on-board sewage treatment system.

Boaters need to ensure sewage is managed appropriately and that any discharges are made in compliance with the legislative requirements. Integral to this preparation is the need for boaters to give careful consideration to the:

  • type of waterway in which their boating activities will take place
  • number of people that they intend having on-board their vessel
  • amount of time to be spent boating in the various different waterway types
  • discharge requirements of those waterways (that is nil discharge waters).

Many owners and operators of recreational boats have found that the legislation does not greatly affect their vessel and, in many cases, that compliance is relatively straightforward and inexpensive. For example, it can be as simple as the use of a portable toilet in nil discharge waters or fitting a macerator to the existing fixed toilet for use in open waters where discharge is permitted.

While the use of onshore toilet facilities may be a good short term sewage management solution for a particular vessel type or operation, a more permanent and long term user friendly option should be considered when making extended or overnight trips.

Regardless of vessel type or area of operation, all vessel owners and operators should ensure that all toileting arrangements on vessels be installed or modified by suitably qualified personnel and conform to the minimum requirements outlined in Australian Standard AS3542-1996 Pleasure boats—toilet waste collection, holding and transfer systems. The standard is available from Standards Australia.

The following guidelines for declared ships and ships other than declared ships provide information on the requirements to comply with sewage legislation.

Pump out facilities

Maritime Safety Queensland continues to work with industry representatives, boating facility and service providers and other relevant state and local government agencies and authorities to further enhance the network of onshore sewage pumpout facilities in Queensland. Locations of current sewage pump out facilities in Queensland are provided.

Ship-sourced sewage professionals

The following onboard sewage specialists can provide you with expert advice on the particular sewage management option most suitable to your individual boating needs:

Disclaimer: Maritime Safety Queensland does not endorse the products or information provided by these businesses and/or service providers. The above links are provided as an aid to commercial operators and the boating public to provide them with relevant industry contacts and sources of information on which to base decision making regarding ship-sourced sewage management options.

Commercial and recreational vessel operators should conduct their own independent assessment to decide on the most appropriate compliance option in their individual circumstances respectively.

Further information

For further information, please contact your local Maritime Safety Queensland regional office.

Last updated
10 September 2018