A successful Inter-governmental Meeting boosting the prevention of and response to marine pollution from ships in the Mediterranean – Jun 03, 2021

Maritime activities are essential to transport goods and passenger through the Mediterranean and represents important drivers of marine pollution in the basin. According to REMPEC (2021) Study on Trends and Outlook on Marine Pollution, Maritime Traffic and Offshore, a little more than 24% of the global fleet of ships called ports or passed through the Mediterranean in 2019,  while projections indicate that the future number of port calls could decrease (by -11.2% in 2050), while the number of transits could increase (+38.2% in 2050), confirming the role of the Mediterranean within the global maritime trade. Maritime activities generate a variety of pressures on the marine environment, i.e., loss or discharge of solid wastes contributing to marine litter pollution, emissions of gaseous pollutants and particles in the atmosphere, emission of continuous underwater noise, release of oil and other contaminants in the marine waters, introduction of invasive species though ballast water and hull fouling.

To address the impacts of maritime activities on the marine environment, the Fourteenth Meeting of the Focal Points of the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC) (31 May - 2 June), which was attended by focal points from 20 (out of 21) Mediterranean littoral countries examined a set of strategic and technical documents.

Joint and coordinated proposal on the designation of the Med SOX ECA endorsed:

A proposal to designate the entire Mediterranean Sea as sulphur oxides (SOx) emission control area (ECA) under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) has been endorsed by the meeting of Mediterranean country representatives.

A Mediterranean ECA would imply a reduction to 0.1% m/m for the sulphur content of fuel oil used on board ships in the area, against the mandatory global limit of 0.50%.

The Mediterranean is a key route for shipping, with both internal shipping traffic and acting as an through route for ships travelling along the Suez-Gibraltar route and entering the basin from the Bosporus Strait. Cutting the sulphur limit would therefore have a significant impact, improving air quality for entire Mediterranean Sea, particularly coastal areas.

The draft joint and coordinated proposal on the designation of the Med SOX ECA was endorsed by the Fourteenth Meeting of the Focal Points of REMPEC.

REMPEC, administered by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in collaboration with the Secretariat of the Mediterranean Action Plan of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP/MAP), assists Mediterranean coastal states to build national capacities to prevent marine pollution from ships and act in the event of major incidents. REMPEC was established under the MAP to support environmental protection of the Mediterranean Sea, adopted by Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention for the protection of the Mediterranean.

The next step in designating the Med SOX ECA is the submission of the draft joint proposal to the MAP Focal Point Meeting (scheduled for 13-17 September 2021). It will then be submitted for adoption to the 22nd Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention and its Protocols (COP 22) (scheduled to meet in Antalya, Turkey, 7 to 10 December 2021).

Subject to its adoption by COP 22, the proposal would be submitted to IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC). The MEPC would then consider the proposed Med SOX ECA for approval and subsequent adoption. 

There are currently four other SOX ECAs worldwide: The Baltic Sea area; the North Sea area; The North American area; and the United States Caribbean Sea area.

Mediterranean Strategy endorsed

The REMPEC focal points meeting also endorsed the Mediterranean Strategy for the Prevention, Preparedness, and Response to Marine Pollution from Ships (2022-2031). This has a vision to create "A clean and healthy Mediterranean marine and coastal environment with a sustainable and pollution free maritime sector, supported by a rigorous enforcement system and strengthened multi-sectoral cooperation, for the benefit of present and future generations".

Seven strategic objectives for the next ten years are set out:

  1. Prevent, prepare for, and respond to operational, illegal and accidental oil and HNS pollution from ships
  2. Promote and support the development and implementation of innovative global solutions to mitigate and respond to climate change
  3. Reduce and monitor air emissions from ships to a level that is not harmful to the marine environment, or the health of the coastal population of the Mediterranean
  4. Prevent and reduce litter (in particular plastic) entering the marine environment from ships, in order to limit the environmental, health, and socio-economic impact of marine litter in the Mediterranean
  5. Eliminate the introduction of non-indigenous species by shipping activities
  6. Achieve a well-managed safe and pollution free Mediterranean, with integrated marine spatial planning and designation of special areas, where shipping activity has a limited impact upon the marine environment
  7. Identify and understand collectively emerging issues related to pollution from ships in the Mediterranean, and define required actions to address issues identified

Ballast Water Management Strategy endorsed

The Meeting also endorsed the Ballast Water Management Strategy for the Mediterranean Sea (2022-2027). This is aimed at establishing a framework for a regional harmonised approach in the Mediterranean on ships’ ballast water control and management, consistent with the requirements and standards of IMO’s Ballast Water Management Convention.

The latter will be considered by the next Meeting of the UNEP/MAP Focal Points (Athens, Greece, mid-September 2021) for approval, and by COP22 for their adoption.

Guidance and manual adopted

The meeting adopted:

Guidance Document for the identification and designation of Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas in relation to Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance aimed at assisting Mediterranean countries to ascertain whether there are maritime areas within their jurisdiction which need the protection afforded by their designation as PSSAs or not, and providing guidance on the preparation of a submission to IMO for designation of a PSSA.

Marine HNS response manual - Bonn Agreement, HELCOM, REMPEC - developed through an inter-regional effort, including the participation of REMPEC, the Bonn Agreement for the Greater North Sea and its approaches and the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) for the Baltic Sea. The objective of this Manual is to provide operational guidance for first responders and decision-makers during a maritime incident at sea or in port involving HNS. It will be submitted to IMO’s Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR 9), to contribute to the “Development of an operational guide on the response to spills of Hazardous and Noxious Substances (HNS)”.

Those are the results of a collaborative and consultative approach with all 22 Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention, through the established network of national focal points responsible for policies related to marine pollution from maritime activities and measures for combating it, and with REMPEC Partners.

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