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IRA-MAR, 2022

Strengthening cooperation in the response to pollution at sea and chemical risks in ports







€622,951 of which €500,000 (European Union/DG-ECHO)

European Union (DG-ECHO)


SGMer (France)

Agence Nationale de Protection de l’Environnement - ANPE (Tunisia)

Cedre (France)

Direccao General Da Autoridade Maritima (Portugal)

ISPRA (Italy)

Ministerio de Transportes, Movilidad y Agenda Urbana (Spain)

Ministère de la Transition Énergétique et du Développement Durable (Morocco)

Stichting Sea Alarm (Belgium)

Transport Malta (Malta)

Objectives and expected results: An integrated approach to response resources at sea, on the coast and in ports.

Experience shows that in terms of civil protection, cross-border cooperation contributes to more effective prevention and preparation for disasters related to pollution risks.

Moreover, pollution response preparedness must, by its very nature, be constantly adapted to the evolution of threats and response techniques, taking into account the organizations involved. This is the purpose of the IRA-MAR project "Improving the Integrated Response to pollution Accident at sea & chemical risk in port", which aims to support the countries bordering the western Mediterranean basin and the Atlantic (Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Morocco, Portugal and Tunisia) in order to improve preparedness and response to pollution risks (including risks related to the traffic of hazardous and noxious substances in ports) through an integrated approach to response capabilities at sea, on the coast and in ports.



Learning from previous accidents:

Indeed, ports are the entry and exit points of chemicals, which are handled there but also of gas carriers and are particularly exposed to chemical risks including chemical clouds, as demonstrated by the accident in the port of Beirut where 2 explosions occurred in 2020. Although it did not produce any marine pollution, the second explosion, of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a shed in the port area, caused considerable human and material damage not only among the ships anchored in the port or offshore but also throughout the city of Beirut.



Continuity of the WESTMoPoCo project: capitalizing on established regional cooperation

The project is a continuation of a previous WESTMoPoCo project (Western Mediterranean Region Marine Oil and HNS Pollution Cooperation) which aimed to support cooperation between the beneficiary countries in the field of preparedness and response to marine pollution by oil and hazardous and noxious substances (HNS), leading to the development of the HNS Response Manual which brings together operational recommendations on the preparedness and response phases in the event of a pollution incident at sea involving HNS.   


The main work areas of the project:

In addition to the coordination and communication mission entrusted to the SGMer, the project includes 4 work areas:


Activities conducted and deliverables produced in IRA-MAR project


WP 3:

Cedre conducted a study of the response in ports which has identified best practices and main gaps in the response systems. The objective of this study was to provide recommendations to port authorities and share best practices. A questionnaire survey has been widely circulated to national port authorities via the regional agreement Secretariats (REMPEC, Bonn Agreement, OSPAR Convention, RAMOGE Agreement) as well as the other members of the Advisory Board of the project (EMSA, DG-ECHO, IAPH). A country-by-country analysis of the results has been produced and can be found on Cedre’s website. These first results have been analysed and completed with the organisation of visits in ports (Marseille) and interviews.  Cedre has also carried out a study of the lessons learned from past incidents, with a view to drawing up accident sheets which have fed into the Cedre and MIDSIS-TROCS databases. 33 types of pollution in port areas, sufficiently documented to be exploited, have been identified and the subject of a bibliographical study.

Port authorities were also able to exchange experiences and perspectives on emergency response in ports at a workshop led by Cedre in Marseille, in January 2024, in a spirit of cooperation and sharing. The port authorities present were able to discuss the advantages and shortcomings of the different modes of intervention in the ports of Marseille, Tangier Med and Malta.

Building on the results of the questionnaire, the lessons learned from past incidents, and these exchanges, a Report listing best practices and recommendations to improve the security in ports has been drawn up.

Main findings of WP 3:

The following recommendations have been elaborated to improve the security in ports and incidents management:

  1. Develop information system on nature and quantity of dangerous goods;
  2. Strengthen incidents reporting and experience sharing, including at international scale;
  3. Improve holistic approach and strengthen cooperation between maritime accident responders and the civil protection community: plan common training and/or exercises;
  4. Better formalize the interfaces between the various plans (industry, port, local/regional/national authorities, etc.) and information sharing;
  5. Develop chemical response capability:
  •  planning training / Exercises;
  •  Raising awareness of existing tools (DSS, databases, manuals…) , in particular those developed as part of European projects;
  •  Contingency planning;
  •  Adapted equipment (PPE…..);
  1. Take into account the specific characteristics of ports;
  2. Integrate ports more effectively into maritime accident /civil security projects (Ex: EU / DOMINO 2022 in France).


WP 4:

Tackling with incidents where Hazardous and Noxious Substances (HNS) are involved (particularly if the products released could produce gas clouds) as well as identifying the issues and gaps while dealing with such incident is of great concern for the maritime, environmental and civil protection authorities.

The objective of the WP4 was to improve intervention systems in the event of possible emergencies caused by marine pollution, generated by a toxic cloud of chemical origin.  Indeed, it is very important to know the fate of chemical products in case of an HNS incident: how a product will disperse once released, its behaviour and associated risks as well as possible response. WP4 was aimed at identifying gaps in the response to incidents in which HNS are involved and can cause toxic clouds near the damaged vessel, by using a modelling system (ALOHA) and drafting scenarios.

These scenarios were played during a series of 13 simulations (table-top and operational exercises) engaging the main stakeholders and experts involved in HNS incident not only at sea but also in ports (harbour master, port authorities, police, Navy, civil protection authorities). 13 exercises were conducted in the Spanish ports of La Coruna, Huelva, Cartagena, Almeria, Bilbao, Sagunto/Valencia, Castellon, Las Palmas, Tenerife, Tarragona, Saragossa, Algeciras and Barcelona.

The structure of the 13 exercises carried out focused on the evaluation of all the factors, which influence the response to an incident of contamination by HNS products with the consequence of the development of a toxic cloud. The gaps or bad practices that make the response ineffective, due to lack of resources, trained personnel, coordination, have been identified in each of the proposed scenarios. The organisation of the various authorities involved, their coordination and responsiveness was tested as well as the operational procedures established to respond to marine pollution.

A report on each exercise has been published to identify the shortcomings observed during the exercises and the improvements to be made in port incident management.

These best practices were presented at a workshop held in Madrid, on 16-17 January 2023. The objective of this Workshop was to share experience as well as to exchange different point of view in dealing with this kind of accidents. Deficiencies detected during the exercises were highlighted, at both a technical, material and human level. Improvements to emergency procedures were proposed to ensure that if an incident of this type occurs, the best possible answer should be made. the areas for improving the response and the real problems encountered by the maritime, port and civil protection authorities and in collaboration with other health, industrial and order entities were revealed. audience

Main findings of WP 4:

The need for a rapid reaction, coordination of actions within limited time frames as well as the need to increase the technical, material and training capacities of all actors involved at all levels was highlighted.

Sustainability of the WP: We understand that this is a positive step and in the right direction, but which must have continuity over time, in Spain has already started planning a program of exercises in other ports of general interest not covered by the IRA MAR project which will begin in March, as well as an evaluation of the different areas of improvement in the ports where the exercises have already been carried out. Based on the analysis of the reactions of the authorities involved during these exercises, emergency procedures will be drawn up by Spanish authorities to better coordinate the response with the civil protection authorities.


WP 5:

New technologies, such as drones have enormous potential to improve the response to maritime emergencies involving oil and chemical spills. These new technologies make it possible to improve the effectiveness of the response by more rapidly acquiring the information needed to understand an event and its extent, to have better quality information, and to quickly determine the best response strategies. It is therefore important to understand how they perform in the different applications and situations of maritime emergencies.

Testing the use of Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) to improve monitoring, detection and response capabilities to various pollutants was the objective of the activities coordinated by ISPRA in Workpackage 5: Studies for the integrated response to pollution accidents: the use of UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) in emergency response. These activities were dedicated to examining the potential of using drones in the field of marine emergencies, trying to identify in which areas and how their use should be considered and integrated into the anti-pollution system put in place by European countries. The research focuses on the use of so-called "small drones", i.e. those weighing less than 20 kg, including nano-, micro- and mini-drones.

Deliverable produced

ISPRA carried out a preliminary bibliographic research and has published a technical guide “Best Available Technologies for the use of drones to carry out surveys in emergency response”. It is aimed at authorities designated in National Contingency Plans (NCPs) to coordinate the survey of areas affected by a marine pollution accident, as well as all other authorities and experts involved in marine emergency response. This bibliographical research was complemented by the analysis and synthesis of a survey, distributed to civil protection authorities, which collected information on the current equipment, practices, needs and experiences of the institutions that usually are involved in a marine environmental emergency. ISPRA also conducted trials to test different types of drones and sensors in different possible scenarios that are more likely to be encountered during a marine environmental emergency. A first trial took place (in June 2023) in the artificial basins of CEDRE, with the main objective of testing different sensors capable of observing different pollutants. The second trial took place in Italy (October 2023), on the island of Ventotene, where different possible scenarios have been created to evaluate performances of small drones in these situations. A report on these field trials and the lessons learnt discusses the best setups to apply, the advantages of using them and the challenges to be overcome when using different types of drones and sensors. Based on the information gained from these activities, a video tutorial that summarises suggested best practices on the use of drones in marine environmental emergencies . It is therefore a video description of the main results obtained during the project on the use of drones. The acquired results are also reported in a technical guide “Best practices for the use of drones during environmental maritime emergencies”, summarising all the information acquired during the IRA-MAR project.

Main findings of WP 5:

Based on the experience gained during the project, some final considerations can be made:

  • Unmanned aerial systems can be a valuable tool to carry out several operations effectively and quickly as part of an intervention during a maritime environmental emergency.
  • Drones can detect, measure and sample a spilled pollutant at sea or in the atmosphere, map and describe a contaminated coastline, and monitor the health and behaviour of marine wildlife. These capabilities help operators to improve their response to accidental pollution, minimising the negative impact on the marine environment and coastal communities.
  • Using drones to assess marine pollution requires the combined efforts of a team of experienced drone pilots, experts in assessing the behaviour of oil and HNS spills at sea, and marine biologists.
  • For more effective use, it is important to include the use of drones in the maritime Contingency Plan


WP 6:

The frequency of iconic maritime incidents in Europe has strongly decreased. These days, oil spills in which long stretches of coast end up in thick oil do not happen that much anymore. Vessels have become safer, advanced technologies to assist navigation have become available, and authorities are better equipped to identify and prosecute maritime pollution. At the same time, there are many changes in the maritime environment that do change the risk profiles connected with maritime activities. More vessel traffic, changing traffic patterns, changing cargo and concerns about HNS, larger vessels, innovative fuel oils with ranges of new properties, spatial effects of energy transition (wind farms at sea), geopolitical effects, climate change (e.g. more storms). Do these changing risk profiles require a change in emergency preparedness, especially in the maritime-coastal interface? That is the question that Sea Alarm Foundation addressed through the activities conducted under WP6 to contribute to the design and development of a framework for more holistic and integrated incident management to address new risk profiles and continue to prepare coastal communities and environments against new types of emergency scenarios.

A questionnaire was sent to national authorities which collected information on what maritime and port authorities identify as challenges in marine emergency response. In total 17 responses were received from 15 countries. It also sought to explore the level of collaboration between the multiple authorities involved, the experts and resources required in the event of an oil spill or chemical pollution, and the extent to which an integrated management system may be required as part of these emergency responses. Additional interviews with countries have been completed to further explore the depth of concerns and to identify ways and roadblocks to develop a holistic and integrated approach to the preparedness and response capabilities to deal with current and future challenges. A first delivery of thoughts and directions for the Framework for Holistic and Integrated Management were developed and presented at the EU MODEX event (Feb 2023). This content was also presented for discussion at the HELCOM RESPONSE meeting (April 2023).

A workshop convened on 21-22 November 2023 in Brussels enabled the participants to discuss the proposed draft framework called “One incident, One Response” and to produce a final version. The Sea Alarm Foundation also developed a package of tabletops/serious games consisting of maps, posters, card decks, dice, and other materials. The so called OneX table package can be used to facilitate discussion-based exercises by presenting realistic scenarios which invite participants (e.g. maritime authorities, coastal authorities, and expert groups) to discuss objectives, strategies and operational needs for a joint response, exploring a framework for holistic integrated response.

Main findings of WP 6:

The questionnaire showed concern among authorities about the multitude of changes that are occurring rapidly. The questionnaire also highlighted varying levels of cooperation, ranging from optimal cooperation between authorities in the field of maritime and coastal emergencies, to a structural lack of exchange between these authorities on the evolution of risks and the investments that should be made in terms of preparedness. The following recommendations have been elaborated to provide suggestions on how national authorities can develop a holistic and integrated approach:

  1. Encourage the implementation of the “One incident, one response” approach at national and international levels;
  2. Establish think tanks at national and international levels to ensure that European countries keep up with their individual and joint response capabilities regarding new risks;
  3. Use the discussion based exercise methodology (such as OneX) to strengthen collaboration between maritime and coastal authorities
  4. Explore and develop capacities with resources from civil society to assist a response in the marine and coastal interface.



For more information, please contact Julie Rigaud, project coordinator:

Last update on 12/02/2024
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