Europe Tightens the Screws on Vessels Polluting Ocean Waters

BRUSSELS, Belgium, March 29, 2007 (ENS) - Starting April 1, the 27 member states of the European Union will display their common determination to tackle unlawful discharges of polluting substances at sea as legislation adopted in 2005 is implemented.

Illicit discharges at sea are still occurring and preventing them is now more than ever a priority for Europe, the European Commission said today.

"We must get tough on illegal discharges and gross negligence must be fought at all cost: the threat of criminal penalties hanging over polluters' heads will help to protect our coasts.

"We cannot tolerate deliberate pollution or gross negligence by a minority of operators who tarnish the image of the shipping industry," said Jacques Barrot, the commission's vice president in charge of transport.


European Commission Vice President in charge of transport Jacques Barrot (Photo courtesy EU)
The law, Directive 2005/35, on ship-source pollution and the introduction of penalties for infringements is intended, in line with international law, to impose penalties on any party found to have caused or contributed to illegal pollution deliberately or as a result of gross negligence.

Vessel masters, owners, charterers, and ship classification societies all must abide by the directive.

The directive applies to discharges in all sea areas, including on the high seas, and it applies to all ships calling at EU ports, whatever flag they fly.

The law provides for cooperation between Port State Authorities to enable action to be taken at a violating vessel's next port of call.

On March 1, Directive 2005/35 on sanctions for ship source pollution and on the introduction of penalties for infringements came into force.

The EU member states are obliged to incorporate this law into their national laws by March 31, 2007.

The commission said today it will "leave no stone unturned to ensure that it is implemented."

To see how many ships entering European ports were violating existing international laws on discharging pollution at sea, the 25 Maritime Authorities of the Paris Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control carried out a concentrated inspection campaign last year.

The inspections were conducted between February 1 and April 30, 2006. During the three month campaign, 4,616 ships were inspected, and 128 ships were detained for serious deficiencies.

These ships were found to be in violation of regulations in the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution From Ships, MARPOL.

On 86 ships, illegal overboard connections of sludge tanks were found so that sludge could be discharged directly into the sea.

The directive is also designed to enhance cooperation between member states to detect illegal discharges and develop methods to identify a discharge as originating from a particular ship.


The tanker Dutch Engineer, used to transport oil or chemicals, is docked near the mouth of England's Tees River. (Photo by Ian Britton courtesy FreeFoto)
The European Maritime Safety Agency, EMSA, will assist the commission and member states in this task.

In respose to a request from the European Commission, EMSA prepared a preliminary discussion paper on measures for implementation and organized a workshop on March 22 and 23. At the workshop, representatives of EU member states exchanged experiences and discussed the development of implementing measures.

To handle the expansion of its pollution monitoring task, the EMSA has set up a new unit to deal with these issues. From April 1, EMSA’s pollution related activities will be split between the Oil Pollution Response unit and the Pollution Preparedness and Detection unit.

The Oil Pollution Response unit will focus on contract management of oil recovery vessels; research, evaluation and innovation; as well as operational activities and fleet management.

The Pollution Preparedness and Detection unit will focus on cooperation arrangements, development of satellite monitoring services, and satellite monitoring operations.

An expert user group is being set up to ensure an effective interface between the EMSA and the 27 member states.

The EMSA says the agency is now ready for spill spotting from space. The EMSA this month launched its CleanSeaNet system to provide EU Member States with processed satellite data for the monitoring and detection of illegal discharges and accidental oil spills at sea.

Member states have the responsibility for implementing Directive 2005/35/EC, and this service will ensure that they will be given the necessary support so that maritime pollution monitoring and detection can be done on a wider and more sustainable scale, said the EMSA.


On November 19, 2002 the Prestige sank off the coast of Galicia, Spain with a load of 77,000 metric tons of petroleum on board. (Photo credit unknown)
CleanSeaNet began operating on on March 20 as the 17th meeting of the EMSA Administrative Board took place in Lisbon, Portugal. At the meeting, the agency decided to request funding of €47 million and 12 additional employees for the 2008 financial year, and the EMSA now awaits a decision by the European Union budgetary authorities.

Major oil companies majors are going beyond safety requirements and seeking oil tankers equipped with high-end voyage data recorders in an effort to boost maritime safety and track accidents, Sten Warnfeldt, area manager at Rutter Technologies told "Shiptalk News" on Monday. Rutter is a voyage date recorder developer and manufacturer.

Between 2007 and 2011, the International Maritime Organization will require all ships to be retrofitted with a voyage data recorder, similar to a blackbox on an aircraft.

The devices will record all activities and commands, and navigational and radar data on the bridge of a ship during a voyage.

Some oil companies are seeking ships equipped with a order-and-response feature in their recorders, which will help trace the causes of ship accidents, Warnfeldt said.

"Oil majors are not taking any chances. They are going beyond the industry requirements," he said.

In addition to increasing maritime safety, the recorders will help to protect ships' crews from allegations of improper protocols. The high-end data recorders will track any given order to its execution and the response from the ship's equipment.