EUROPEAN UNION TO CRIMINALIZE ACCIDENTAL POLLUTION

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has yet to comment on an EU proposed law that will make accidental pollution by petroleum tankers and other commercial vessels a criminal offense.

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has reminded the EU that the IMO's International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) is already in place to deal with pollution at sea. If the EU denounces MARPOL, it could have global consequences for both the EU and the IMO, which is the United Nation's agency concerned with safety and the environment at sea.

The criminalization issue will be a high priority for IMO Secretary-General Efthimios Mitropoulos, who will meet with EU transport commissioner, Jaques Barrot, for the first time this week. An ICS spokesperson said that shipping is an international industry, and that it should be regulated by international laws. Furthermore, MARPOL clearly states that pollution from ships is not a criminal action, unless committed "with the intent to cause major damage or is reckless because of knowledge that damage would result."

The EU directive will undermine accident investigations, when there is a possibility of criminal sanctions. MARPOL clearly states the view of international regulators that criminalizing a pollution accident is unjust and unreasonable, given the hazards that exist at sea.

The ICS said that if the EU finds the current MARPOL regulations unacceptable for ships operating in its waters, then it needs to go through the proper procedures of amending the regulations to meet higher standards of operation, and not criminalize the event.