Strasbourg May 5: In a move that could have far reaching implications for the shipping industry, the European Parliament adopted a directive today under which EU Member States will be required to toughen their laws and penalties on maritime pollution. Disconcertingly for the maritime industries, criminal penalties are now being introduced in the event of deliberate pollution and even in the event that the pollution is caused by negligence.
The directive was carried by a majority of 588 votes in favour, 42 against, and 3 Member’s of the European Parliament (MEPs) abstaining. EU Members are now bound to legislate to comply with the directive within one calendar year of the date of its entry into force.
The directive was tabled by Spanish MEP Luís de Grandes Pascual; MEPs voted to levy criminal sanctions for serious cases of maritime pollution and to toughen penalties for even minor cases if these are repeated, deliberate or the consequence of serious negligence. Member States will decide penalties, although the strongly worded directive asks that these be "effective and dissuasive". The new rules will cover ship owners and others such as cargo interests and Classification Societies. "Repeated minor discharges made with intent, recklessly, or due to serious negligence must be considered criminal offences and punished with effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties," says a Press Release issued by the Parliament.
Mr. Pacual said that Europe had made "A big step forward to stop maritime pollution. For the first time, we will have compulsory criminal penalties for all the responsible parties in the maritime sector," he commented. Although the directive was first proposed early in 2007, industry observers have believed that support for its implementation had been gaining momentum in recent months.
Many MEPs are understood to be now pushing for a quick adoption of the directive; many have complained that ship owners have been relatively unconcerned about maritime pollution since EU penalties were not stringent enough. Criminalising the issue, though it may sent shudders down many a Captain’s spine, is the way the Europeans have chosen to go.
Snippets from the European Parliament Press Release:
• The aim is to deter parties who would rather pollute because paying an administrative fine costs less than obeying the law.
• Criminal penalties: Member States to regard serious cases of pollution as criminal acts.
• Distinction remains between serious and "minor" cases (those not resulting in a deterioration of water quality)
• Minor cases are nevertheless to be regarded as criminal offences if they are repeated, deliberate or caused by serious negligence.
• Ship source discharges of polluting substances shall be regarded as criminal offences if they are committed with intent, recklessly or with serious negligence and result in serious deterioration of the quality of the water.
• Less serious cases of illicit ship source discharges of polluting substances that do not cause a deterioration of the quality of water need not be considered as criminal offences, and shall be referred to as "minor cases". However, repeated minor discharges made with intent, recklessly, or due to serious negligence must be considered criminal offences and punished with effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties if they cause deterioration in the quality of the water.
• The Parliament insists that Classification societies or owners of cargo to be included in the scope of the Regulation.