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18 October 2007


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Maritime Safety

2000-2005: Promoting safe seas

| The ERIKA-I and ERIKA-II packages of measures
| The "PRESTIGE" accident
| The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA)

The Prestige accident

Three years after the “Erika” accident, the “Prestige”, a single hull tanker, sprang a leak off the Galicia coast polluting the Spanish and the French coasts with heavy fuel oil. The European Commission reacted rapidly to the accident by adopting a communication on improving safety at sea on 3 December 2002, which included the following main points:

With Regulation (EC) N°1644/2003, the timetable for opening the European Maritime Safety Agency set up as part of the Erika II package was brought forward so that the Agency could starts work six months earlier than planned. In addition, the Commission proposed giving the Agency three new tasks connected with combating pollution (placing additional resources – clean-up equipment and vessels – at the disposal of the Member States), minimum training standards for seafarers and security.

On 20 December 2002 the Commission submitted to the European Parliament and the Council a proposal for a regulation to ban immediately the carriage of heavy fuel oil in single-hull tankers; speed up the timetable for phasing out single-hull oil tankers flying the flag of an EU Member State or operating in European ports; and tighten up the technical inspections for single-hull tankers over 15 years old entering EU ports. With the entry into force of Regulation (EC) N° 1726/2003 on 21 October 2003 single-hull tankers carrying heavy fuel oil are no longer allowed to enter or leave ports in the Member States.

After months of intensive negotiations at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), similar measures have been adopted with the amendment to the International Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution (MARPOL 73/78) which entered into force on 5 April 2005.

Finally, following the Commission’s proposal on 5 March 2003, the European parliament and the Council adopted on 12 July 2005 Directive 2005/35/EC on ship-source pollution and on the introduction of sanctions, including criminal sanctions for pollution offences. A complementary Framework Decision was adopted to strengthen the criminal law framework for the enforcement of the law against ship-source pollution.  The Directive establishes that marine pollution by ships is an infringement. Sanctions will be applicable to any party - including the master, the owner, the operator, the charterer of a ship or the classification society - who has been found to have caused or contributed to illegal pollution intentionally or by means of serious negligence. The Framework Decision provides that in the most serious cases these infringements will have to be regarded as criminal offences, subject to criminal penalties.

The regime introduced with the Directive tackles discharges in all sea areas including the high seas and is enforceable for all ships calling to EU ports irrespective of their flag. It provides for cooperation between port State authorities, which will make it possible for proceedings to be initiated in the next port of call. Furthermore, it aims at enhancing cooperation among Member States to detect illegal discharges and to develop methods to identify a discharge as originating from a particular ship. The European Maritime Safety Agency will assist the Commission and Member States to that end.

The European Commission presented on 11 March 2008 a new proposal which further strengthens the existing Community legislation regarding sanctions on those responsible for pollution by ships.

Proposal for a DIRECTIVE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL amending Directive 2005/35/EC on ship-source pollution and on the introduction of penalties for infringements
COM(2008) 134
  Press release
The European Commission streamlines rules on protection in case of maritime pollution
Questions and Answers on criminal law measures against maritime pollution


last update: 15-12-2008