Improving the Atlantic area’s ability to deal with maritime spills

For many of us, the words “maritime spill” immediately conjure up images of listing tankers leaking crude oil or refined fuels, but these are only one type of substance that might be involved. Maritime transport is used for many kinds of cargo, some of which  – known as hazardous and noxious substances (HNS) – could also cause grave damage if released into the sea. The ARCOPOLplatform project enabled authorities and researchers in the Atlantic Area to hone their skills and their contingency plans for dangerous spills.

Additional tools

ARCOPOLplatform: regions © European Commission ARCOPOLplatform: regions © European Commission

" The Platform created by the project is a sustainable structure for public-private cooperation focused on maritime spill preparedness and response. It consists of an online database and a set of five working groups addressing priority issues on maritime pollution. "

Marisa Fernández. ARCOPOLplatform coordinator

The ARCOPOLplatform project, launched in January 2014, helped to consolidate the protection of coastal Atlantic regions with regard to maritime spills. While the project itself was completed within 21 months, the Platform it established remains operational.

The dialogue among the partners thus continues. Based on public-private cooperation, this interaction is dedicated to contingency planning, preparedness and response with regard to hazardous and noxious substances, environmental monitoring, training and awareness raising activities, along with the detection, modelling and monitoring of spills.

What if?

As with all contingency planning, the underlying question is “What if?” Europe’s Atlantic ports handle vast amounts of substances – primarily chemicals – that could place the marine environment at risk. In themselves, these substances are not necessarily toxic – vegetable oils, for example, jointly top the list of the top 100 hazardous and noxious substances by quantity for the EU. Other substances, such as xylenes, octane and sulphuric acid, are a more obvious cause for concern. 

So, what happens if such cargo ends up in the water? What do we need to do, and are we ready and able?

Building on the outcomes of two earlier ARCOPOL projects, ARCOPOLplatform enabled local and regional key players to boost their preparedness and fine-tune their contingency plans. It encouraged dialogue between and among public sector stakeholders and contributors from academia, and helped participants to exchange experience and identify good practice. 

Be prepared

Key outcomes reported by the project’s management team include the implementation of contingency plans in 13 coastal areas, the production of decision-making tools and awareness-raising videos, and the organisation of training activities involving workshops and e-learning modules. The new resources developed by the participants, along with the documentation produced by two preceding ARCOPOL projects, are available online. 

The Platform also supports the activities of five working groups. Three of these groups are, respectively, dedicated to contingency planning, hazardous and noxious substances, and environmental monitoring. A fourth group is devoted to modelling and decision tools, while the fifth centres on training and awareness.

The ongoing cooperation in the Platform gave rise to two follow-on projects, the management team notes. One of these projects, named Mariner, was set up to improve hazardous and noxious substances preparedness through training and exercises. The other, known as Marpocs, focuses on spill preparedness and response in the Atlantic sub-region that borders on Morocco and surrounds Madeira and the Canary Islands. Both projects are supported by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO).

As of August 2016, the Platform had some 200 members. Registration is free, and all interested parties can join.

Total investment and EU funding 

Total investment for the project “ARCOPOLplatform” is EUR 1 443 146 with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 938 044 through the “Atlantic Area” Operational Programme for the 2007-2013 programming period.

Draft date