Oil and chemical pollution

image of oil pollution

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

Oils and chemicals on-board your boat

Many oils and chemicals carried aboard ships are pollutants and can harm the marine environment, including:

  • petrol
  • diesel fuel
  • gear box oil
  • motor oil
  • 2-stroke oil
  • hydraulic oil
  • cooling system additives
  • cleaning agents and additives
  • degreasers
  • solvents
  • acids
  • paints.

A majority of the ship-sourced oil and chemical pollution that enters the marine environment comes from refuelling, vessel maintenance and bilge discharges. Operators must have systems and processes in place to ensure that they use and dispose of all on-board oils and chemicals correctly and safely. 

Once these pollutants enter our waterways they have the potential to impact on many aquatic organisms, which can have a flow-on effect through the whole ecosystem. Contaminated fish stocks, crustaceans such as crabs, and filter feeders such as oysters and mussels can accumulate these harmful chemicals and pass them onto humans, if consumed.

Keeping bilges clean helps to reduce oil and chemical pollution. Boat owners should consider fitting filters to automatic bilge pumps to reduce the accidental discharges and use absorbents to mop up excess oil or fuel, wash bilges with biodegradable degreasers or detergents and dispose of any cleaning residues ashore.

It is important to note that the use of dispersants or other cleaning agents can increase the toxic effects of oil spills so do not use them in the aquatic environment.

If you accidentally discharge oil or chemicals into the water, let the Regional Harbour Master, marina operator or port authority know, so that it can be cleaned up as soon as possible. For further information contact a Maritime Safety Queensland regional office.

How to handle oils and chemicals

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

  • 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.
  • Consider fitting filters to automatic bilge pumps.
  • 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 or phosphate free biodegradable detergents.
  • If you do use chemicals, read the material data safety sheet (MSDS) before you decide on any chemical cleaner and check the information about the toxicity to both humans and the aquatic environment. If it is deemed to be toxic to humans then it is not likely to be good for the aquatic environment. If it is deemed toxic to marine organisms, then it should not be used.
  • Carry absorbent material on-board to clean up any accidental spills.

If you accidentally discharge oil or chemicals into the water, or see a spill, do your bit for the marine environment and contact your local Regional Harbour Master, marina operator or port authority, so the spill can be contained and cleaned-up as soon as possible. Contact information is provided on the Maritime Safety Queensland website.

Oil and chemical pollution is an offence

Maximum penalties apply:

  • for an individual – 5,000 penalty units
  • for a corporation – 100,000 penalty units.

See website for cost of penalty units.

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 Marine Pollution Report known as a POLREP (F3968) 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
23 March 2023