The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL 73/78) define the powers of repression of the States concerned by an illegal act of marine pollution: the port State, the flag State and the coastal State.
European conventions govern cooperation between States in legal proceedings in the event of transgression of the international laws in effect These conventions have not yet all been extended to include environmental activities, and in particular illicit discharge of pollutants in marine inland waters, in their scope. In the near future they will be required to complete their domain of application, as requested by the member States.
Agreements and conventions on deballasting and other illicit discharges cover the area from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and form the core of the illicit discharge repression policy.
The main European agreements are:
- the Helsinki Convention on environmental protection in the Baltic Sea
- the Bonn Agreement on cooperation in response to oil pollution in the North sea
- the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of the Coasts and Waters of the North-East Atlantic against Pollution
- the Barcelona Convention for the protection of the Mediterranean Sea
France is party to the last three agreements listed.
Bonn Agreement. The occurrence of a number of major oil spills led to the creation of the first Bonn Agreement in 1969, in a bid to improve cooperation between North Sea States for oil pollution response. The current Bonn Agreement, dating from 1983, extended its application to member States of the European Union, so as to ensure reciprocal assistance and cooperation in pollution response, to carry out surveillance as a detection and pollution response tool, and to put a stop to the infringement of anti-pollution regulations.
Helsinki Convention. This agreement concerns the Baltic Sea and produces a report every year on pollution incidents classed by size.
Lisbon Agreement (Cooperation Agreement for the Protection of the Coasts and Waters of the North-East Atlantic against Pollution) This agreement covers the area of the Atlantic from the southern Channel to the Moroccan coasts.
Barcelona Convention. The Barcelona Convention of 1976 aims to reduce pollution in the Mediterranean Sea and protect and improve the marine environment in the area, thereby contributing to its sustainable development.
Other texts focusing on specific aspects add to these agreements:
- the Paris Memorandum of Understanding
- the OSPAR Convention
- the European Convention on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters
- Europol Convention
The Paris Memorandum strengthens the different agreements by instituting port State control. These measures were standardised by the European Community directive 95/21. This directive deals with the inspection of 25% of the ships which enter port and the priority inspection criteria for the ships showing deficiencies. A database named SIRENAC provides communal information.
The OSPAR Convention on the protection of the marine environment in the north-east Atlantic was signed in 1992 and came into effect in March 1998. It aims to reinforce cooperation between member States in terms of protection of the north-east Atlantic. These States have committed themselves to take all possible action to prevent and eliminate marine pollution caused by human activity on land and at sea. The convention applies to the coastal States of the north-east Atlantic, to European Union member States and to Switzerland, as a country located in the northern part of the basin coming from the North Sea.
The European Convention on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters and the Europol Convention can be mobilised to provide additional information concerning an offence or to prosecute an offender. The mutual assistance convention was signed on 20 April 1959, came into force on 12 June 1962, was ratified on 29 May 2000 and revised on 16 October 2001 by a protocol providing for additional legal assistance measures. It states that the parties involved agree to provide mutual legal assistance in order to gather all the necessary elements for penal proceedings begun by the legal authorities of the State requesting assistance This mutual assistance is to be provided for enquiries, proceedings and convictions in the State requesting assistance. In urgent cases, the convention states that enquiry requests may be addressed directly to the legal authorities of the required party by the legal authorities of the party requiring assistance.
The Europol Convention, dated 26 July 1995, establishing a European Police Office, aims to improve police cooperation between member States, to fight all serious forms of international crime. The fields in which Europol is involved are many and varied. The European Police Office facilitates the exchange of information between member States, gathers and analyses the information, communicates the information to the relevant services of the member States and immediately informs them of any links noted between criminal acts. It facilitates enquiries within member States and manages computed-aided information gathering. Offences for illicit discharge are not yet criminalised, but are soon to appear in a new European cooperation directive.