Every six minutes, an illegal hydrocarbon dumping incident takes place in european waters

The European Parliament plenary session will vote on their report on the draft Directive to impose criminal sanctions on those responsible for ship-source pollution.

Press Release Date: June 26, 2013

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: mmadina@oceana.org | tel.: Marta Madina

“We have got to stop this serious, chronic pollution.Since the process for approving the Directive began in March 2003, around 180,000 illegal dumping incidents have taken place in European waters, polluting them with more than one million tonnes of hydrocarbons. Every month of delay in approving the Directive results in an increase in marine pollution of more than 40,000 tonnes of contaminating hydrocarbons”, states Xavier Pastor, the Director of Oceana for Europe.

On 22 February, the European Parliament plenary session will debate the report by Dutch Euro-MP Corien M. Wortmann Kool on the draft Directive regarding the imposition of criminal sanctions on those who pollute the seas with hydrocarbons. This proposal has already been amended and approved by the Transport Committee at its meeting on 19 January.

In view of this important meeting, Oceana, the international organisation dedicated to the research, protection and recovery of the seas, reminds us of some of the facts relating to the routine, illegal pollution resulting from this kind of dumping:

  • 88% of the hydrocarbon residue that reaches the coasts of the North Sea, particularly tar balls, comes from discharging bilge water at sea.
  • 90% of oiled birds and tarry residue found on the beaches of both sides of the North Atlantic is due to illegal hydrocarbon dumping.
  • In some areas, only one in every ten seabirds killed by oil reaches the coast and can be counted. Given that each year more than 77,000 dead birds are found on European coasts, the true scope of this contamination could be astronomical. In the Canadian waters of the Atlantic, it has been estimated that 300,000 seabirds are killed every year.
  • On the coast of Belgium, between 500 and 3,000 oiled seabirds are found each year. And Belgium only represents 0.08% of the total European coastline.
  • The sublethal effects of this pollution can reduce the successful survival of seabird colonies by up to 6%, the average being 2.75%.
  • Between 22% and 46% of all sea turtle deaths around the world are connected to hydrocarbon pollution of the sea. Half the turtles born on Atlantic beaches show signs of oil contamination before they have reached one year old.
  • Cetaceans are also affected. Various species have been found on European coasts with oil stains or with their respiratory tracts obstructed by tar balls.
  • Every year more than 20 million tonnes of hydrocarbon waste and oily waters are produced by maritime traffic in European waters. This quantity is enough to fill 10,000 Olympic swimming pools.
  • Only 7% of vessels that dock in the port of Rotterdam, the port with the biggest movement in the EU, deposit their waste in the port installations specially set up for that purpose. What happens to the other 93%?
  • Every year, some 3,000 illegal hydrocarbon dumping incidents take place in European waters, but it is believed that the actual total could be far higher.
  • It is believed that the total number of illegal discharges of more than 20 tonnes that take place each year must be around 90,000; in other words, a spillage every 6 minutes, affecting an area of 242,000 km2 (the size of Great Britain).
  • The annual volume of hydrocarbons that reaches European waters has been estimated at 1,750-5,000 tonnes in the Baltic Sea, 15,000-60,000 tonnes in the North Sea and more than 400,000 tonnes in the Mediterranean.
  • The levels of dissolved hydrocarbons in Mediterranean waters reach up to 5 g/l, with levels of more than 10 g/l in areas of acute chronic pollution. Meanwhile, the volume of tar balls on the coasts of this sea is estimated at between 0.2 and 4.388 grams per linear metre of coast.

Oceana has been working in support of a strong Directive that imposes criminal sanctions on those responsible for this kind of pollution. The report that is to be voted on by the European Parliament includes many of the proposals that Oceana has submitted to European institutions.

Oceana  presented two reports (“The EU Fleet and Chronic Hydrocarbon contamination of the Oceans” and “The Other Side of Oil Slicks”) to the European Parliament and the EU Ministries of Transport exposing the risks for the marine environment and human health from this pollution,