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Shipping and sea-based pollution

Some 20% of sea pollution comes from the deliberate dumping of oil and other wastes from ships, from accidental spills and offshore oil drilling. But of all the sources of marine pollution, the discharge of oily engine wastes and bilge from day-to-day shipping operations may be the worst, because it is steady and occurs everywhere.

Even low levels of contamination can kill larvae and cause disease. Oil slicks kill birds, marine mammals and fish, particularly near coasts, and coagulated oil destroys coastal habitats.

At the beginning of UNEP's work in the Regional Seas, legal agreements dealing with marine pollution tended to focus on sea-based sources, particularly the deliberate dumping of oil and other wastes and spills from maritime accidents and offshore oil drilling. One of the earliest global marine conventions the 1972 London Dumping Convention, was designed to prevent ship-related pollution, paved the way for the first Regional Seas protocol to address the topic: the 1976 Protocol for the Prevention and Elimination of Pollution of the Mediterranean Sea by Dumping from Ships and Aircraft.

In the run-up to WSSD, the Regional Seas programmes identified ship-generated marine pollution, oil spill preparedness and response, and construction of port reception facilities for ships’ wastes as a priority.