Europe to apply tougher rules on ship discharges

Ships sailing within the territorial waters of EU countries could be fined significant sums for a range of environmental infringements, and not just for oil spills.  Transport and tourism committee MEPs said on Thursday November 16th that fines could also be imposed for sewage and garbage discharges

On Thursday the T&T committee voted to update EU rules on preventing pollution from ships in European seas, and to ensure that perpetrators face fines. It would ensure all of the international standards on preventing illegal discharges from ships that had been developed by the International Maritime Organization would become part of EU law, thus making them easier to enforce.

A proposal was approved to extend current EU rules prohibiting the discharge of oil and noxious liquid substances to include the discharge of sewage, garbage, and residues from scrubbers.

The Committee said that shipowners should bear the responsibility for any environmental damage caused by ship pollution. This would protect enforcement agencies if the master or crew responsible for the illegal discharge could no longer be found or could not afford to pay the penalty.

MEPs also want EU governments to avoid setting maximum or minimum penalties for infringements. The committee feared that, if this were the case, the effectiveness and proportionality of penalties would be undermined.

CleanSeaNet is a European satellite-based alert system for oil spill and vessel detection. However, currently this system lacks reporting on how pollution incidents have been followed up. Transport MEPs are therefore in favour of encouraging more information exchange between member states and the commission on pollution incidents. They also want 50% of CleanSeaNet alerts to be verified on the spot and as soon as possible, to prevent an illegal discharge from dispersing and therefore becoming undetectable by the time of arrival on the location.

EP rapporteur Marian-Jean Marinescu said that “the current EU rules do not work, because they are weakly applied by member states. This is unacceptable. It is time for member states to step up and protect European seas from the harmful effects of ships illegally dumping waste. It is necessary to effectively detect illegal discharges and set penalties at levels that serve as a real deterrent”.