Illicit discharges

The issue

Although operational discharges at sea by ships are regulated mainly under the MARPOL Convention, numerous illicit discharges from ships can be observed at sea, requesting action at the regional level for detecting and prosecuting such infringements.

Since the adoption of the “Prevention and Emergency Protocol” in 2002, REMPEC has been working towards setting-up a sound basis for the development of marine pollution surveillance and monitoring systems in the region, by providing up-to-date knowledge on technical aspects of remote sensing, by actively participating in pilot projects on satellite monitoring of sea based oil pollution aimed at testing the service, and by assisting the Mediterranean coastal States in establishing national monitoring and surveillance systems.

Progress has been made towards near real time observations and setting by sub-regional cooperation in monitoring marine pollution in accordance with specific  objective 6 of the Regional Strategy for Prevention of and Response to Marine Pollution from Ships (2016-2021).

Related documentation

AESOP Project

When adopting the Regional Strategy for Prevention of and Response to Marine Pollution from Ships in 2005, the Contracting Parties requested REMPEC (under Specific Objective 6 of the Strategy) to carry out pilot projects in the field of monitoring and surveillance of illicit discharges from ships. In particular, satellite surveillance was fully recognized as a promising option for the detection and the prevention of illicit discharges at sea. Hence, in order to meet the specific objective of the Strategy and to strengthen the capacities of the Mediterranean coastal States in this field, in 2005, the Centre developed the AESOP (AErial & Satellite Surveillance of Operational Pollution) Project, which was carried out in 2005 and 2006 in the Adriatic Sea in collaboration with the EC-Joint Research Centre (EC-JRC Ispra), the ex-UNEP/MAP Environment Remote Sensing Regional Activity Centre (ERS/RAC, providers of satellite images), Italy (validation on site), and Slovenia (provider of Automatic Information System (AIS) images).

The AESOP project was conceived as a project of short duration and commitment which aimed at testing two key aspects of such a satellite monitoring system: its reliability, by comparing and cross validating the observations made by satellite with those made by specially equipped aircrafts, and its capacity to provide a Near Real Time (NRT) service, by alerting the aircrafts for validation as soon as potential oil slicks were detected by satellite.

The results of the AESOP pilot project proved to be encouraging. In particular, the use of aerial surveillance and of satellite images, integrated with oceanographic data, AIS images of traffic and mathematical models able to backtrack the spills, led to the achievement of promising results and, in some cases, to the identification of the possible polluter, indicating that there was room for future developments in the field.



As a follow up to AESOP, in July 2007, REMPEC initiated the implementation of the European Space Agency (ESA) funded project MARCOAST for Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, which was carried out between September 2007 and January 2009 with the aim of providing an operational satellite monitoring service to the Southern Mediterranean countries.

A total of 80 satellite images were analysed for oil spill detection and the results were delivered to each country in Near Real Time, namely 30-60 min from satellite image acquisition. Each country was receiving information specifically related to its own territorial waters. However, the relevant data was shared among neighbouring countries whenever an oil spill was detected close to the border of two different areas of jurisdiction, paving the way for the establishment of sub-regional monitoring systems.

Throughout the project, and with a view to developing and fine-tuning the satellite monitoring service provided, the relevant authorities of the participating countries were tasked, subject to availability of means, to promptly react to the pollution alert by verifying on site the oil spills detected by satellite. To facilitate this verification part of the exercise, REMPEC requested the support of the Mediterranean Operational Oceanography Network (MOON) in order to provide the users of the service with meteoceanographic forecasting data of the affected area and with oil spill drifting predictions.

The project, which clearly demonstrated the operational capability of such a satellite monitoring service, provided also some preliminary results regarding the areas of the Southern Mediterranean Sea which appeared to be more affected by illicit discharges.


OSCAR-MED Operations

Co-ordinated Surveillance Operation in the Western Mediterranean Sea (OSCAR-MED 2009)

Hyères, France, 12-16 October 2009

With a view to improve operational co-operation in combating illicit discharges in the Mediterranean region, REMPEC launched the idea of carrying out in the basin a coordinated surveillance operation similar to the SuperCEPCO operations which are regularly carried out in the North Sea.

This initiative, involving several countries of the Western part of the Mediterranean basin, took place during the last week of September 2009 from the airbase of Hyères (France). France, Italy, and Spain, each made available a surveillance aircraft throughout the operation whereas the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) provided the relevant satellite images.

As a first attempt in the Mediterranean region, this operation was aimed not only at ensuring an extended aerial and satellite coverage with a view to detect the oil and the relevant polluters, but also at exchanging information on the pollution detected among the different countries, facilitating the process for a successful prosecution of illicit discharges offenders in the region.

Throughout the operation the following results were achieved:

three oil spills which were detected by satellite were identified and confirmed by aircraft; the oil spill forecasting models were in some cases validated by observations made by the surveillance aircrafts; three ships were caught red-handed, two of them while discharging mineral oil within the French Ecological Protected Zone (EPZ). The two polluting ships are being investigated by the French authorities; fourteen observers attended the operation participating to the surveillance flights and contributing to a fruitful exchange of knowledge and expertise.


Coordinated Aerial Surveillance Operation for illicit ship pollution in the Western Mediterranean (OSCAR-MED 2013)

Palma de Mallorca, Spain, 24-26 June 2013

Five aircraft from Algeria, France, Italy, Morocco and Spain participated in a Coordinated Aerial Surveillance Operation for illicit ship pollution discharges (opération de surveillance coordonnée aérienne des rejets des navires en Méditerranée – OSCAR-MED 2013) in the Western Mediterranean which was organised by REMPEC between the 24 and 26 June 2013, with the financial support of the Government of France and the RAMOGE Agreement (Agreement on the protection of the environement signed between France Italy and Monaco). It was coordinated by the Spanish Maritime Safety Agency (SASEMAR) through its Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Palma de Mallorca and the planes were based on Palma de Mallorca main airport.

The Operation commenced on 24 June at 18:00hrs and lasted until 12:00hrs of the 26th June. The air patrol aircraft from the five countries operated twelve flights (a total of 44 flying hours) to detect marine pollution from ships in a designated area of the Western Mediterranean. In total, some 700 vessels were monitored during the Operation and three oil slicks were detected. The Operation was supported by the CleanSeaNet service satellite images provided by EMSA.

This was the second OSCAR-MED Operation organised by REMPEC. The first one, in which three aircraft from France, Italy and Spain had participated, was based in Hyères, France in 2009. The main objective of these Operations is to enhance operational cooperation in the Mediterranean to combat illicit ship pollution in the region.

During OSCAR-MED 2013, REMPEC and Blue Plan, UNEP/MAP’s Regional Activity Centre on environment and sustainable development, also convened a Meeting on the Establishment of a Network of Law Enforcement Officials relating to MARPOL in the Mediterranean Sea (MENELAS). The Meeting, which was also held in Palma de Mallorca, between the 25 and 26 June 2013, was organised with the financial support of the Government of France and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) financed “Regional Governance and Knowledge Generation Project” (ReGoKo Project) being implemented by Blue Plan.

Operational and judicial officials from 14 countries and territories in the Mediterranean (Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Cyprus , France, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Montenegro, Morocco, Slovenia, Spain, Palestine, Tunisia and Turkey) responsible for investigating and sanctioning marine pollution offences participated in the Meeting aimed at establishing a regional network with a view to facilitating the exchange of information and experience in the prosecution of MARPOL violations. The Meeting discussed and endorsed the terms of reference of the proposed Network and recommended the establishment of the Network and the approval of its terms of reference to the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean Sea scheduled to meet in December 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey.

Prosecution of offenders

The Centre also engaged itself, in line with specific objective 7 of the Regional Strategy, in assisting the Mediterranean countries to establish an appropriate legal framework for the transposition into national legislation of the provisions of the MARPOL Convention relevant to illicit discharges. An assessment of the situation with respect to MARPOL Annex I implementation was carried out in Mediterranean countries which are not EU member States.

Related documentation

Recent efforts of the Centre are focusing on enhancing the knowledge of legal personnel, prosecutors and magistrates and facilitating judicial co-operation and the establishment of possible common procedures, by organising a regional workshop (MEDEXPOL 2007) to discuss these issues. These efforts contributed to promote the creation of a network of prosecutors in the Mediterranean region, and resulted in the organisation of a Seminar on the enforcement of environmental legislation in the Mediterranean, by the Ministry of justice of France, and the international Development Law organisation (IDLO), which REMPEC attended.

Download MEDEXPOL 2007 report

published on 2015/05/12 14:50:00 GMT+0 last modified 2020-06-04T21:54:48+00:00