Maritime safety: Council and Parliament strike a deal to ensure cleaner shipping in the EU

To ensure safer and cleaner shipping in the EU, the Council presidency and European Parliament’s negotiators reached a provisional agreement on a revised directive on ship-source pollution, as part of the ‘maritime safety’ legislative package.

The revised directive incorporates international standards into EU law, ensuring that those responsible for illegal discharges of polluting substances are subject to dissuasive, effective, and proportionate penalties to improve maritime safety and better protect the marine environment from pollution by ships.

Overall, it will equip the EU with modern tools to support clean shipping by aligning EU rules with international standards and securing a level playing field for the maritime sector while improving implementation and enforcement through an enhanced cooperation framework between European and national authorities.

Main objectives of the revised directive

The revised legislation mainly aims to:

  • extend the scope of the current directive to cover illegal discharges of harmful substances in packaged form, sewage, garbage and discharged waters and residues
  • establish a strengthened legal framework for penalties and their effective application, enabling national authorities to ensure a dissuasive and consistent imposition of sanctions to ship-source pollution incidents in all European seas
  • separate the administrative sanctions regime from the criminal sanctions’ regime enshrined in the new draft environmental crimes directive.

Key elements of the new legislation

The general thrust of the Commission proposal was retained by the co-legislators. However, the provisional agreement introduces several changes to ensure clarity and coherence with international rules and procedures, in particular those of the international convention for the prevention of pollution from ships (MARPOL), in the interest of protection of the marine environment.

Considering the differing legal systems in the member states, the provisional agreement also indicates more clearly that the legislation in question concerns administrative penalties only, thus drawing a clear line between the scope of this directive and that of the new draft legislation on environmental crimes.

Finally, adequate flexibility was introduced regarding member states’ obligations to verify and report pollution incidents, to avoid imposing an excessive administrative burden and in recognition of member states’ diverse situations in terms of geographical location, resources, and capabilities.

Next steps

Today’s provisional agreement needs to be approved by both co-legislators before the formal adoption of the legislative act by the European Parliament and the Council. Member states will have 30 months after the entry into force of the revised directive to transpose its provisions in their national legislation.

Background information

The proposal forms part of the maritime safety package submitted by the Commission on 1 June 2023. The five legislative proposals, including those on maritime accidents investigation, compliance with flag state requirements, port state control, and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), aim to modernise EU rules on maritime safety and reduce water pollution from ships. With 75% of the EU’s external trade being seaborne, maritime transport is not only the artery of a globalised economy, but also a lifeline for the EU’s islands and peripheral and remote maritime regions. Although maritime safety in EU waters is currently very high, with few fatalities and no recent major oil spills, more than 2 000 marine accidents and incidents are still reported every year. The adoption and implementation of the maritime safety legislative package will be a concrete deliverable of the EU’s commitment towards sustainable and smart mobility.  Marian-Jean Marinescu (EPP/RO) is the European Parliament’s rapporteur for this file whereas Commissioner in charge of transport, Adina Vălean, was represented at the interinstitutional talks by Director a.i. at DG MOVE, Fotini Ioannidou.