Labor Toolkit

Legal Tools for Port Reform

Port Regulations

Port Operating Regulations

Port regulations (port bylaws) are usually issued by a public port authority and have a legal basis either in a specific law such as a Maritime Code (as in Azerbaijan), a port law (as in Singapore), or a municipal law (as in Rotterdam). Port bylaws are generally well considered and provide very detailed regulations relating to the conduct of vessels, safety, and order in the port area; the protection of the environment; the use of pilots; documentation of disembarking passengers; loading and discharging of goods; and crisis management. Because port regulations are dependent on specific local circumstances, development of generally applicable port regulations is not feasible. Therefore, in this section only a selection of the most important issues is discussed.

Vessel Traffic Management

Vessel traffic management focuses on the safe passage of vessels through the port area. Traffic density in a major portóespecially in the case of sea-going and inland vessels using the same port watersómay require an elaborate system of traffic regulation and management. This system comprises four principal elements:

Provisions regarding these issues are found not only in port regulations, but also in pilotage laws and regulations, vessel traffic regulations, and IMO conventions.


The sea or harbor pilot is the first representative of a port encountered when a sea-going vessel enters port waters. The pilot acts as adviser to the captain during the shipís transit. The efficiency of the pilot service is of major importance both for port safety and efficient traffic management.

Order and Safety in the Port

Since it is not feasible to mention all port regulations on port safety, only those provisions that are of general application are listed here. The main subjects are:

Generally, the harbormaster (or port captain) is responsible for maintaining good order in the port area, often in cooperation with specialized port police, and, in emergencies, with the regular police, fire brigade, and ambulance services.

Reporting and Communication

Part of reporting and communication with the harbormaster (or port captain) is standard, such as vessel entry and departure. Expected time of arrival at the port is usually reported at least 24 hours prior to arrival and regularly updated. Departure of a ship from berth is usually reported to traffic control three hours before unmooring. There are special procedures for reporting dangerous or noxious substances carried by the ship. Border police and customs require a host of documents. In the event that a country is a member of the Port State Control Agreement, the port authority controls ship documentation to prevent substandard ships from using the port. Rules should be made by ports for captains or agents to inform the harbormaster or Captainís Room in a timely manner about goods loaded or discharged at the terminals, especially with respect to dangerous and noxious cargoes. Reports must also be made to the appropriate authority concerning any accidents or incidents that occurred on the vessel when calling at the port or alongside a berth.

Reports are usually made to the Captainís Room of the port or marine authority responsible for disseminating the relevant information to all parties concerned, such as the terminal of destination, the tug company, the boatmen, customs and immigration, ship chandlers, and others. Information is often entered into a port system serving the entire port community (see Box 18). Data communication between ship and port authorities is increasingly conducted electronically via satellite communication devices (GPS or Internet). Modern ports increasingly accept messages only in digital format.

Dangerous Cargoes: Transport and Handling

Over the last four decades, the IMO has been recognized as the principal forum for all matters affecting the safety of shipping. The transport of dangerous cargoes has been one of IMOís main responsibilities since its founding in 1958. Its rules, requirements, regulations, standards, codes, guidelines, and recommendations have been implemented by port administrations all over the world and are followed and observed by both port authorities and the ports industry. Port regulations should be consistent with IMO rules as much as possible.

It is estimated that more than 50 percent of packaged goods and bulk cargoes transported by sea can be classified as dangerous, hazardous, or harmful. Some of the substances transported are dangerous or hazardous as a matter of safety and are also harmful to the marine environment, other cargoes are hazardous only when carried in bulk, and some may be considered harmful to only the marine environment. Between 10 percent and 15 percent of the cargoes transported in packaged form, including freight containers, bulk packagings, portable tanks, tank containers, road tankers, trailers, unit loads, and others, fall under the above categories.

Generally, port regulations may require a license for handling specific cargoes. With respect to vessels loading and discharging dangerous cargoes, port regulations usually include detailed provisions. The port authority may prohibit loading, handling, and discharging of dangerous cargoes in harbors where such activities would be especially dangerous to the public. Often, handling liquid cargoes such as oil, oil products, gasoline, or dangerous chemicals may only take place in designated harbor areas or zones that do not pose a threat to nearby population centers (see Box 19). The entry and presence of dangerous, hazardous, and harmful cargoes in port areas and their attendant handling should be fully controlled to ensure general safety. The passage of ships carrying dangerous cargoes is a critical responsibility of the vessel traffic system. Ships loading or discharging dangerous cargoes are usually regulated by an expert.

Cleaning of ship holds still containing residues from dangerous cargoes may need to be separately regulated and controlled. Disposal of oil and chemical wastes should also be strictly controlled and carried out through installations owned or controlled by the port authority in accordance with the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL 73/78) on port reception facilities.

With respect to vessel management, the port authority may regulate the navigation and place of anchoring or mooring of vessels carrying dangerous goods. It also might regulate the mode of utilizing, stowing, and keeping dangerous cargoes on board vessels and the conveyance within the port of any kind of dangerous cargoes with any other kind of goods, articles, or substances.

Finally, a port authority should have full information about the type and amounts of dangerous goods in the port area and about locations where those goods are stored or handled. Detailed regulations should be issued by the port authority or the competent environmental agency with respect to location and segregation of dangerous cargoes on terminals or industrial sites. In the event of industrial or chemical sites located in the port area, the port authority should also be fully informed about possible dangers and risks with respect to explosions and damage to the environment.

Pollution and Reception Facilities

The goal of MARPOL is to prevent pollution from ships. This has been widely adopted throughout the world. It obligates signatory states to ensure the provision of adequate port reception facilities for waste that can be used without undue delay. National legislation implementing the convention usually places responsibility for ensuring such provision on port authorities. Many ports meet the obligation by allowing suitable, qualified waste management contractors to offer services. In such cases, the authority is responsible for thorough quality control at the facility. Cleaning facilities for oil and oil wastes can often be economically exploited. However, cleaning facilities for chemical wastes generally do not offer by-products that can be extricated and marketed by a waste management contractor.

An important issue to consider is whether the port will merely facilitate the provision of these services directly to ships through licensed, qualified contractors or provide the facilities itself (shore facilities and collection barges, if necessary). In the latter case, the port is responsible for the effective removal of waste materials (see Box 20).

Regulation of Other Port Functions

A variety of other aspects may be regulated by a port authority under a ports law, such as:


How To Use The Toolkit


Framework for Port Reform

The Evolution of Ports in a Competitive World

Alternative Port Management Structures and Ownership Models

Legal Tools for Port Reform

Introduction and Overview

General Approach for Drafting a Ports Law

Port Authority and Terminal Operations

Port Regulations

Port Competition Modalities

Full Concession Agreements

BOTs and Construction

Annex I

Financial Implications of Port Reform

Port Regulation:
Overseeing the Economic Public Interest in Ports

Labor Reform and Related Social Issues

Implementing Port Reform


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