Greater Efforts Needed to Protect Europe's Seas, Say MEPs

The EU's maritime policy should be better co-ordinated and properly funded and Member States should do more to protect their marine environment, says the European Parliament in a resolution adopted on Thursday. Pointing to the lessons of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, MEPs call for a European strategy to prevent and tackle oil spills.

Recognizing Europe's "strong maritime tradition", MEPs urge the Commission to devise a "blue growth" strategy for sustainable growth in coastal regions and maritime sectors by 2013. The EU's maritime policy must receive appropriate funding after 2013 and all possible budget options should be studied, including the creation of a coastal fund.

Preventing oil spills

The European Commission is urged to learn from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and prepare "a co-ordinated European action strategy" for tackling cross-border disasters caused by oil drilling rigs and tankers. EU legislation must be adopted to make the polluter liable in the field of offshore oil extraction, says Parliament, and the remit of the European Maritime Safety Agency must be extended.

Protecting marine and coastal environment

EU Member States should assess the environmental status of their marine waters by 15 July 2012 and adopt ambitious improvement measures. Meanwhile, the Commission should "come up with a strategy to mitigate the specific impacts of climate change on coastal regions" and "introduce economic market based instruments, such as emission trading schemes, into the maritime sector". Because "the seas have become a disposal site for immense and fast-growing volumes of waste material, much of it of plastic origin", MEPs call for a European and international debate to explore ways to reduce such pollution.

'Greener' ships and competitive shipbuilding

Pointing to new sulphur dioxide limit values in shipping fuels in force in the English Channel, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, MEPs argue that "all European coastal areas should be similarly protected" to avoid any distortion of competition. At the same time, such measures should not lead to a shift from sea to road transport.

Parliament advocates the use of environmentally-sound technologies and alternative shipping fuels to promote "green shipping" and suggests "making full use of the competitive shipbuilding capacity of Europe" and "finding solutions at an international level" to eradicate unfair competition within the shipbuilding industry.

MEPs also call for existing disagreements on maritime zone borders to be settled, illegal fishing and piracy to be tackled and the interoperability of different surveillance systems to be improved, with the prospect of creating a European Coastguard Service.

Statistics. The EU has 320,000 km of sea coast; a third of EU citizens - and the trend is rising - live on the coast. Economic activities at sea and on the coast produce 40% of EU GDP. Some 40% of trade in goods within Europe and 95% of exports outside Europe are carried out by sea.

The BBC reports that a British MEP told the European Parliament that 2,000 containers are lost overboard from ships in EU waters every year. Video from highlighting this point form yesterday's hearing can be seen at BBC Democracy live, http://news.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/hi/europe/newsid_9112000/9112791.stm

Press Release from the EU Committee on Transport and Tourism