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Content archived on 2024-05-21

Monitoring illicit discharges


Specific Objectives

Mapping of illicit oil spill pollution activity and generation of reliable spatio-temporal statistics of oil spill occurrences in the European seas.

Assess on the possibilities for early warning and prompt response for identifying polluter, taking into account specific area characteristics.
Development of an integrated approach to reconstruct spilling scenario and associate illegal discharges with ship tracks detected in the pollution zone.

Identify areas facing chronic pollution from operational discharges, and investigate prevailing met-ocean features, which may enhance consequences of frequent spilling. Assess on the efficiency of the existing legal frame for protecting such areas and the coastal communities and investigate possibilities for improvements e.g. accordance to SSA (Specifically Sensitive Areas).
Planned Deliverables

1. Maps of regional and local reconnaissance of illicit discharges incidences in the European seas for 2000 and 2001;

2. Database of detected oil spill signatures and reliable statistical assessments integrated to GIS with indicators of environmental sensitivity and other relevant information;

3. Assessment at regional level of the extent of unconformity with regulations (1999-2001);

4. Methodology for reconstructing spilling history and responsible ships identification;

5. Web based services for results visualization and dissemination.

Specific deliverables to DGs:

Deliverables 1, 2 , 3 and 5

As a result of the research:

Deliverable 4

Summary of deliverables made by:
- Summary of deliverables 2001 31/12/2001

- Mapping of illicit oil spill pollution for year 1999 over the all Mediterranean basin;

- Presentation of the results in the first meeting of the Management Committee on Marine Pollution (MCMP);

- Production, in collaboration with DG-ENV Civil Protection Unit, of the document "On the Monitoring of Illicit Vessel Discharges. A Reconnaissance Study in the Mediterranean Sea".

Output Indicators and Impact

On the basis of the activities already carried out, expected results will represent a unique source of valuable information quantifying the problem of illicit discharges and will provide substantial support for setting up actions to combat and help to abate the problem. Important results will include:

- Provision of updated and comprehensive information on the real dimension of the problem at European level;
- Provision of an effective tool to evaluate the level of unconformity to regulations;
- Provision of a tool for monitoring the effectiveness of the existing legal frame and possible amendments and the effectiveness of real actions and activities taken to combat the problem;
- Support to the optimisation of surveillance systems to identify the polluters;
- Support to the design of an early warning system for prompt response.
Summary of the project

Besides accidental pollution, caused by ships in distress, different types of routine ship operations lead to deliberate discharges of oil in the sea.
Illicit discharges are the greater source of marine pollution from ships, and the one, which poses an insidious long-term threat to the marine and coastal environment.
- The answer of the international community to the problem of marine pollution from ships, is the MARPOL 73/78 convention, which sets strict standards for ship discharges. Europe is especially privileged by this regulation, since all its regional seas are now accorded the status of "Special Sea Area" where discharges are almost totally prohibited.
- This project aims to provide updated information on the extent of unconformity with the international environmental law in order to assist the Commission Services and the European States in assessing on the effectiveness of the existing policies, as well as for optimising plans of focused patrol and intervention strategies.
- The work will be based on the best available remote sensing techniques and methodologies and in particular on radar technologies.
Systematic work will be carried out for generating reliable spatio-temporal statistics of oil discharges from ships in the European seas. Spill signature shapes and contrast characteristics will be studied through simulations, while the positioning and classification possibilities of ship tracks and their movement in the pollution zone will be investigated, for reconstructing scenarios of discharging and proposing methodologies for polluter identification. Areas under high pressure will be identified, and investigations will be carried out, of the prevailing met-ocean features, which may enhance locally the risks and consequences of frequent spilling.
Assessments on the recurrence of law violation will be accomplished at regional and local scale, while the possibilities/limitations for early warning and law enforcement will be investigated including views related to TSS (Traffic Separation Schemes) and AIS (Automatic Identification System transponders).


Reliable monitoring methodologies and continuously updated comprehensive information are key elements to create effective contingency planning, that is the firm technical foundation, for civil protection and mitigation of social and economical impacts, from man-made risks. Systematic inclusion also of state of the art scientific findings, in regional and international environmental governance, secures the collective action on environmentally justified principles, and prevents compromising policies for short-term gains.

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