Beyond oil spills

Prevention reinforcement measures triggered by oil pollution can stretch beyond accidental spills. Response to operational discharge in France is a striking example of this situation.

After the Erika oil spill, permanent surveillance of the wreck for possible seeps increased awareness of the high level of illicit discharge in the Bay of Biscay. Furthermore, it appeared that some passing vessels took advantage of this accidental pollution to release their waste waters in the zone around the wreck.

At that time, French legislation relating to research and repression of pollution at sea required samples to be taken from the sea and from the suspected vessel. Thanks to the evolution of photographic technology, these regulations underwent a fundamental modification.

As of July 2002, it was no longer necessary to take samples. This opened the door to seeing photographs and videos accepted as evidence of pollution. Meanwhile, specialised courts were also created to judge cases of illicit discharge at sea.



Vessels suspected of polluting French territorial waters and the French EEZ are now rerouted to a French port. These vessels have to answer a legal inquiry and deposit a bank guarantee to ensure payment of the fine, before being allowed to continue their journey. Previously, convictions were rare and fines never paid. Since the Erika (1999), convictions have become frequent and fines severe.

To take another example, Canada has recently consolidated zero tolerance national Regulations for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships and for Dangerous Chemicals, with a view to eliminating deliberate, negligent and accidental discharge of pollutants from ships into Canadian waters.

Rerouting a vessel suspected of illicit discharge off the coast of Brittany (France)