Around 3,000 cases of illegal dumping of hydrocarbons in european seas are reported every year

The destination of most of the more than 20 million cubic metres of oil waste produced in Europe is yet unknown.

Press Release Date: June 17, 2013

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: | tel.: Marta Madina

The dumping of oil from Illegal and “routine” operations of ships is three times greater than that from oil slicks caused by oil tanker accidents.

UK is the country which provides the IMO with the most comprehensive information, but it is still to implement the European Directive to tackle illegal dumping.

Spain lacks efficient surveillance services to prevent marine pollution.

According to a report recently published by the international organisation for the research and protection of oceans, Oceana, every year millions of cubic metres of waste of oil and other hydrocarbons end up in European seas as a result of illegal dumping and routine activities of ships.

This chronic pollution of our oceans can be between 8 and 25 times greater than that resulting from oil tanker accidents like that of the “Prestige”, which released more than 70,000 tons of fuel onto Spanish and French coasts after it sank in November 2002. That means it can be three times greater the pollutions caused by all oil slicks in one year.

According to Oceana’s report:

  • The United Kingdom is the country which provides the IMO (International Marine Organisation) with the most comprehensive information on the state of waste reception facilities on their ports, but it is still to control the situation in Gibraltar.
  • The Spanish coasts are in some of the world’s main hydrocarbon trade routes, and yet there is no surveillance system in place that can monitor and track down the ships that carry out illegal dumping in their waters. The EU Committee on Transport and Energy, whose president is the Spanish minister Loyola de Palacio, has proposed several measures to tackle these problems; however, the Spanish government has not yet implemented any of these measures, nor has it even approved them.
  • Whereas the Dutch European MPs criticise the non compliance with the measures for the processing of tanker waste, aimed at stopping their illegal dumping into the sea, and for the job losses resulting from the closing of some of the processing centres, the Dutch government is included in the “black list”, since it has not put in place the Directive which could solve these problems.
  • The south European countries’ lack of resources for the control of illegal dumping, added to the shortage of waste reception facilities in the Mediterranean, make the Golf of Leon one of the hotspots in terms of illegal dumping of hydrocarbons from ships.
  • Despite the severe oil pollution problems suffered by European seas, the European Union has not yet managed to pass and implement, as a matter of urgency, the Directives which can stop the thousand of cases of illegal dumping that take place every year.

Europe is the main recipient of hydrocarbons, receiving nearly 500 million tons of crude oil and 250-300 million tons of refined products, such as petrol, gas-oil, fuel oil, etc per year. Moreover, European waters are on the route of many oil tankers transporting their cargo to different destinations, meaning that the total amount of crude oil passing through EU waters could well be over 1 billion tons.

The EU needs around 6,000 fleets per year to meet its demands for crude oil, which is transported by 1,500-2,000 oil tankers. The Strait of Gibraltar is one of the busiest areas for maritime traffic, though which some 18,000 ships carrying hazardous merchandise pass every year.

Every year some 300 oil tanker accidents occur, causing between 240,000 and 960,000 tons of hydrocarbons to be dumped in our seas. In addition, illegal dumping and routine operations of vessels account for between 666,000 and over 2.5 million tons of hydrocarbons of marine pollution per year.

Xavier Pastor, the Director of Oceana in Europe, claims that “around 3,000 cases of illegal dumping of hydrocarbons are reported in Europe every year, but these are believed to represent but a small fraction of those that really occur.  In spite of this, very few vessels are actually prosecuted for this reason. Only 1% of the arrests carried out subsequent to dock inspections were the result of such activities”.

The majority of the waste ending up in the seas comes from tank washing, from polluted ballast waters or from tank fuel and oil residue. Although the exact amount of waste discharged into the sea is not known, the estimate of the volume of oil waste generated by vessels in Europe set the total amount at over 20 million tons a year. Only a small part of this is adequately processed at the existing port reception facilities.

Only 7% of the vessels putting in at Rotterdam, the main European port, deposit their waste oil in the waste reception facilities. And in Spain, where the transportation of heavy hydrocarbons may generate over 3.5 million tons of waste, Algeciras, the port with the heaviest traffic of merchandise in Spain, and the fourteenth in Europe, receives at least 25% of the waste oil for its volume of traffic.

In the Mediterranean, the sea with the highest levels of pollution from hydrocarbons in the planet, there are 50 waste reception centres, but only 15 of these satisfy the minimum requirements. In the Persian Golf, where 50% of the world’s crude oil is loaded to be transported by sea, there are very few centres for treating waste hydrocarbons, and Oman is the only signatory country of MARPOL (International agreement for prevention of sea pollution by hydrocarbons).

Despite the high level of illegal dumping of oil in European waters, only Germany and Greece have complied with the incorporation of the EU Directive that came into force in January 2003 to encourage waste treatment in ports and prevent dumping at sea.

OCEANA proposes

  • Support for the proposal for a new Directive from the European Commission with the aim of establishing criteria for taking punitive action against offenders.
  • Putting into operation a cross-European surveillance system to monitor and detect illegal hydrocarbon dumping at sea.
  • Inclusion of the companies and shippers responsible for illegal oil dumping at sea on a blacklist which disqualifies them from working in the EU or receiving any kind of subsidy.
  • Establishing economic sanctions on member countries that do not provide adequate waste reception facilities in line with Annex I of MARPOL and which do not comply with European Commission Directives.
  • Creation of a watchdog group reporting to the IMO to go on board oil tankers to verify compliance with MARPOL regulations on the prevention of water pollution.

News in brief

This week the IMO Committee is taking part in a conference in London, to discuss the different proposals made by the signatory countries of international conventions for improving marine security and fighting pollution.

Also, on 4th and 5th December, when this conference will come to an end, the EU Council of Ministers of Transport and Energy will meet, when ironically many of the representatives attending have not complied with their obligations with the IMO and with the EU itself in terms of the prevention of illegal dumping from ships.