European environmental organisation

In 1981, the European countries set up a consulting committee for the control and reduction of pollution caused by oil spills and spills of other dangerous substances at sea, within the framework of the Environment Directorate-General of the European Commission. In 2000, this committee created the Management Committee on Marine Pollution (MCMP), through which all European countries were represented.

The MCMP financed a permanent research programme, exchanges, exercises and training courses. Its members update the online Community Information System, which provides the responsible authorities in each country with permanent access to data on response arrangements and stockpiles in other countries.

Through the MCMP, the European Commission also financed a specialised community intervention squad, capable of mobilising a group of experts and resources from member countries in a matter of hours to advise a European country or a country outside of the EU affected by an accident. In this way, each country can benefit from rapid and efficient support from other countries.

The pollution from the Erika triggered a decision by the European Parliament in 2000 to create a European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), based in Lisbon. The agency became operational on 4 December 2002, in a temporary base in Brussels.

EMSA’s primary mission is to standardise and monitor maritime safety and the prevention of pollution, with a view to informing and improving on these aspects. EMSA has embarked upon an investigation into response means and strategies in the different European countries.

More information

Community information system:

European Maritime Safety Agency:




EMSA is also in charge of supporting European States in response to oil pollution at sea. In 2004, it was allocated a budget of 17.5 million Euros for 3 years to charter 4 high sea pollution response vessels to be posted, in addition to national means, in the high risk areas of the Baltic Sea, the Channel, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The first charters were contracted in early 2006. In addition, a European satellite imagery service in real time to assist with the detection of major pollution incidents and illicit operational discharge is due to become operational in 2007. The agency has taken over previous major responsibilities of the MCMP, whose activities were terminated in 2006.

An example of European mobilisation

On 16 January 2001, the oil tanker the Jessica grounded near the port of San Cristobal (Galapagos Islands) and began to spill her cargo into the waters of the Galapagos Marine Reserve classed as a world heritage site.

On 24 January, in agreement with the Ecuadorian Government, the European Commission sent a team of three specialists to assess the needs. The team made recommendations on the work in progress (in particular on recovering tar balls on the shore). They identified the need for response training and the establishment of a contingency plan.

Aerial view of the Jessica and the lightering barge, San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands, January 2001