RBSA Position Paper: “EU’s maritime pollution prevention efforts should never lead to unjust criminalisation”

28th April 2023

The recent review of the regulations pertaining to pollution prevention in the shipping industry, including the Ship-Source Pollution Directive, the Ship Recycling Regulation, and the Environmental Liability Directive is coming under the scrutiny of the shipping industry within and outside Europe.

Whilst these directives firmly place responsibility on shipowners for compliance and for the cost of pollution incidents, based on the EU’s motto “the polluter pays“, the influence exerted by the European Commission’s push for better environmental protection outlined in its Green Deal and the Environmental Crime Directive is discernible in the discussions.

The most glaring weakness of the review is the excessive judicial treatment of incidents as of “serious negligence”. By placing pollution incidents in the Environmental Crime Directive, the EU policymakers are showcasing a severe knowledge gap regarding ship source pollution. To this end, the Royal Belgian Shipowners’ Association has published a position paper to highlight the matter.

Shipping accidents and incidents can be caused by a variety of factors, including human error, equipment failure and weather conditions,” said Elle De Soomer, RBSA’s Legal Affairs Director and author of the paper.

There are certainly more effective ways to deter pollution than simply criminalising offenses. Furthermore, the industry expresses its severe concern regarding the criminalisation of seafarers – should an incident occur – by implying that they are solely responsible for accidents and incidents onboard. The move towards the criminalisation of seafarers within a highly-regulated shipping industry indicates that those responsible for passing such legislation may not be aware of these facts. It is imperative that laws at the national level recognise and align with international law, as established in UNCLOS and MARPOL. The last thing anyone wants is the unjust criminalisation of seafarers and legal uncertainty regarding shipping accidents and incidents.”

To know more about our analysis of the EU’s review of its maritime pollution prevention regulations, download our paper “Navigating European Regulations on Pollution Prevention in the Shipping Industry: A Shipowner’s Perspective“.


Photo by Raimond Klavins on Unsplash