Pollution from ships – agreement on amending the directive, what sanctions await shipowners?

Zanieczyszczenia ze statków

Increasingly, attention is being paid to pollution from ships entering our seas, as we have written about several times in Water Matters. The problem is serious and cannot be ignored under any circumstances. It is estimated that a large cruise ship (about 3,000 tourists) produces, for example, 8 tons of oily bilge water every day, approx. 960m3 so-called. “gray water”, during a week-long voyage also produces about 8 tons of solid waste, often these pollutants will illegally end up in the sea. Is the fact that the European Union is taking more initiatives an opportunity to make the seas cleaner? The actions of individual member states and international organizations offer hope.

Amendment of the directive on ship-source pollution

To reduce the impact of ships on the quality of waters in the seas, the Parliament and the European Council on February 15, 2024. have adopted an agreement to amend Directive 2005/35/EC on ship-source pollution and to introduce penalties for violations. Sanctions are to apply to shipowners [1] using ships, while if it is proven that someone other than the shipowner was responsible for the violation, he is also to be subject to sanctions under Directive 2005/35/EC. This will bring the document into line with the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships(MARPOL Convention) and expand the scope of the directive to include additional types of pollutants discharged into the seas, such as sewage and garbage.

Pollution from ships – new regulations

Thanks to the adopted agreement, there will be increased transparency of information about pollution offenses in European seas, the types and amounts of anticipated penalties that may be imposed for non-compliance. The news will be made available to the public, including on websites. Details will also be published on how coastal authorities are checking for potential spills using satellite surveillance.

Another change relates to the imposition of administrative penalties on those responsible for the illegal discharge of wastewater from ships. In order to increase their effectiveness: for example, the size of the illegal discharge, its impact on the environment or the financial capacity of the responsible party will be taken into account. Member state authorities will have more effective tools and platforms for sharing information and experiences. For example, satellite surveillance of ship-borne pollution(CleanSeaNet – EMSA’s surveillance and information-sharing database) will be improved – providing better resolution. All the changes introduced contribute to preventing pollution of European seas.

When will the new regulations take effect?

The new rules were presented by the Commission in June 2023. As part of the maritime security package. Once formally adopted by Parliament and the European Council, they will be published in the Official Journal of the European Union and enter into force 20 days later. Member states will have 30 months to transpose the directive into national law.

Directive on ship-source pollution and the introduction of penalties for violations

The Directive on ship-source pollution and the introduction of penalties for violations 2005/35/EC is being revised for the second time. The first time this happened was in 2009. The handling procedures were first developed between 2000 and 2009, following two major maritime accidents involving the ships Erika and Prestige, which caused significant oil spills. Directive 2005/35/EC regulates penalties for illegal discharges of oil and noxious liquid substances from ships into the sea and applies to all vessels regardless of size.

To add, not all waste generated on ships must be discharged at ports. Some may be discharged into the sea, but these are legally regulated procedures. We speak of an illegal discharge when it does not meet the relevant International Maritime Organization (IMO) regulations, i.e. standards set forth in the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL).

International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL)

MARPOL is an agreement adopted at the International Conference on Marine Pollution, organized by the IMO in October 1973. O 50. The anniversary of the signing of the MARPOL Treaty by the IMO was mentioned in some of our previous articles in Water Matters: World Maritime Day 2023.

MARPOL is a set of regulations governing the construction and equipment of seagoing vessels carrying oil, its distillation products and harmful chemicals, and regulating the handling of all substances (including waste) discharged from ships into the sea. MARPOL, among others. prescribes the construction of double-hulled tankers, prohibits the disposal of harmful chemicals and plastics, establishes standards for the cleanliness of discharged water, washings, wastewater and emitted exhaust, designates specially protected seas (including the Baltic Sea), where it is completely prohibited, for example, to dispose of washings after washing cargo tanks (regardless of their degree of cleanliness) and garbage (with the exception of food waste). In addition, it requires states to equip seaports with facilities to collect washings, sewage and garbage from ships.


[1] enterprises using ships. If it is proven that a person other than the company was responsible for the violation, it will be subject to sanctions in accordance with Directive 2005/35/EC.

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