EU to introduce stricter fines for illegal discharges from ships

Ships in the European Union seas should face dissuasive fines not only for oil spills but also for sewage and garbage discharge, Transport and Tourism Committee Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) said.


On November 16, 2023, the Transport and Tourism Committee voted to update EU rules on preventing pollution from ships in European seas and ensuring perpetrators face fines.

The move would ensure all international standards on preventing illegal discharges from ships, developed by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), become part of the EU law and as a result become more easily enforceable.

Specifically, MEPs supported the proposal 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.

Under the proposal, shipowners are to bear the responsibility for any environmental damage caused by ship pollution, in case the master or crew responsible for the illegal discharge can no longer be found or cannot afford to pay the full amount of the penalty.

MEPs also want EU governments to avoid setting maximum or minimum penalties for infringements to ensure that the effectiveness and proportionality of penalties are not undermined.

Current EU rules have been responsible for the introduction of the CleanSeaNet, a European satellite-based alert system for oil spill and vessel detection. Because this system lacks reporting on how pollution incidents were followed up, Transport MEPs are in favor 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 at the location.

“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,” EP rapporteur Marian-Jean Marinescu (EPP, Romania) said.

The draft negotiating mandate was approved by 36 votes to one. Transport Committee MEPs also unanimously backed a decision to start talks with member states on the final shape of the legislation, once plenary has given its green light next week.

The revision of the directive on ship-source pollution is a part of the maritime safety package presented by the European Commission in June 2023. The package aims to modernize and reinforce EU maritime rules on safety and pollution prevention.

The new rules focus on administrative fines for ship-source pollution, while criminal sanctions are to be addressed in separate legislation MEPs are currently negotiating with EU governments.