In France surveillance of oil discharge at sea has been carried out for over twenty years by the French authorities. However, it is only after the Erika oil spill that France began to keep detailed statistics of the observations and judgements, and to increase fines to reach dissuasive levels.
The General Secretariat of the Sea made Cedre responsible for collating the data on aerial surveillance and occasional satellite data, in order to provide an annual situation report.
These reports show quite a regular increase in pollution reports (known as “Polrep”) since 1990, the first year for which statistics are available. However this increase may be more of an appearance than a reality during the 1990s, as the figures for the beginning of the decade appear to be blurred by numerous omissions.
We therefore present here only the statistics from 2000, taken directly from the sources. These figures show that the number of confirmed Polreps, having increased from 281 in 2000 to 396 in 2004, now fluctuate around an average of 350 Polreps annually.
Data collected by Cedre, excluding leaks from the wrecks of the Erika and Prestige
POLREPS 2000-2009 Data collected by Cedre, excluding leaks from the wrecks of the Erika and Prestige
Confirmed Polreps (1)
Source know (oil / total)
147 (52 %)
120 (37 %)
122 (41 %)
144 (39 %)
199 (59 %)
262 (64 %)
242 (69 %)
253 (70 %)
254 (53 %)
The proportion of these discharges identified as hydrocarbons has considerably risen. This however is more of a reflection of more experienced observers than an actual change in the type of products spilt; the proportion of unidentified pollutants therefore drops as the percentage of discharges identified as hydrocarbons rises.
Cases of discharge from a known source seem however to be decreasing, both for oil and other pollutants. It seems that France’s crack down on illicit discharge has resulted in a change in the behaviour of crews in French maritime areas: they do not pollute less, but pay more attention to not being seen while doing so.
Incidences of ships caught illegally polluting have significantly decreased over the period examined, while efforts to identify polluting ships have not diminished: crews are proving to be more careful to ensure that they are not caught in the act.
Bank guarantees deposited by shipowners to allow the vessel to continue on its journey, introduced in France by specialised courts from 2002, are now decreasing, after having reached a peak of nearly 6 million Euros in 2004.
First instance trials, which generally take place 1 to 2 years after the incident, were on the rise until 2005, both in number and in terms of the sum total of the fines issued that year. The appeal judgment, in the case of an appeal, occurs between 2 and 3 years after the incident. It more often affirms or increases the sentence rather than reducing it.