HELCOM adopted its first Recommendations targeting sewage from ships already in 1980. For instance, on 5 May 1980 the delegates adopted HELCOM Recommendation 1/5, “Recommendation concerning the application by the Baltic Sea states of guidelines for type testing and approval of sewage treatment systems”.
In 2005, HELCOM Heads of Delegation meeting (HOD 18-2005) discussed the proposal by Finland that the Baltic Sea countries together assess the possibility to limit sewage discharges from ships in the Baltic Sea. The Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT) carried out a study on nutrient discharges from ships’ sewage in the Baltic Sea.
The meeting of HELCOM Maritime group (MARITIME 6-2007) proposed and the HELCOM Cracow Ministerial Meeting in 2007 decided to propose at IMO that the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) Annex IV on sewage should be amended.
The VTT technical report was improved and the proposal to IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) was drafted and polished during several HELCOM meetings 2007–2010. The purpose of the proposal was to amend MARPOL Annex IV in order to a) create the legal concept of a sewage “special area” within MARPOL Annex IV and b) designate the Baltic Sea as such an Annex IV special area.
In March 2010, the joint HELCOM proposal was sent to IMO MEPC 60, amended based on the discussions, and approved at IMO MEPC 61 in September 2010. According to IMO procedure, the amendment to the MARPOL Convention was agreed by IMO MEPC 62 (July 2011) by Resolution MEPC.200(62) and entered into force in 2013.
Applicable dates of enforcement were decided on by IMO in 2016 to be 1 June 2021 for existing IMO registered passenger ships, 1 June 2019 for new passenger ships. For direct passages between St. Petersburg and the North Sea there is an extension until 1 June 2023.