Framework and Context

The international legal framework for Oil and HNS pollution

 The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has introduced major internationally-enforced measures to reduce risks of pollutions from oil and chemical spills and protect the marine environment.

On Pollution Prevention:

On Pollution preparedness and response:

  • the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation, 1990 (OPRC Convention)
  • The Protocol on Preparedness, Response and Co-operation to Pollution Incidents by Hazardous and Noxious Substances, 2000 (OPRC-HNS Protocol) extends this regulatory framework to address pollution incidents involving hazardous and noxious substances.


For the purposes of the HNS Protocol, Hazardous and Noxious Substance is defined as “any substance other than oil which, if introduced into the marine environment is likely to create hazards to human health, to harm living resources and marine life, to damage amenities or to interfere with other legitimate uses of the sea”. HNS typically transported by sea include petrochemical products, but also animal or vegetable oils such as palm oil used globally in the food industry.


At the regional level:

UNEP-MAP-colors.jpgThe marine environment of the Mediterranean is further protected by the Mediterranean Action Plan, created in the framework of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Regional Seas Programme in 1975, followed by the adoption of the Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution (Barcelona Convention) in 1976, which entered into force in 1978, and subsequent Protocols.


Cooperation in the fields of prevention of, preparedness for and response to marine pollution from sea-based sources builds on one of these protocols, the 2002 Prevention and Emergency Protocol, which entered into force on 17 March 2004.


Responding to oil spills and chemical pollution events at sea

Although improvements in navigation safety and maritime security have decreased the risks of major incidents, recent events in the Mediterranean such as the Ulysse/Virginia collision in October 2018, show that coastal States should always be prepared to face such crises as an explosion or fire, a cargo loss (dangerous substances, oil) or a spill of bunker (oil, diesel).


 Ulysse/Virginia collision (Cedre)


In the Western Mediterranean context, a semi-closed sea with a particularly dense maritime traffic, fragile marine and coastal ecosystems and important human activities, oil or HNS spills can have severe effects on the environment. They also lead to behemoth costs in terms of clean-up activities or economic losses for such sectors as tourism and fisheries, to name a few. Timely and efficient response often involves heavy and complex operations at sea, which require high levels of preparedness and constant ready-to-deploy capabilities, experts and equipment. These are expensive to develop, mobilise and/or maintain. Cooperation in the field of preparedness for and response to marine pollution is one of the ways to reduce these impacts and limit the harm of Oil/HNS spills.

Several sub-regional plans and arrangements already exist that allow cooperation and mutual assistance between coastal States in emergency marine pollution response (e.g. by sending additional staff and equipment or the sharing of information):


 Carte accords sous-régionaux EN.PNG

Multilateral Agreements on Sub-regional Contingency Plans in the West Mediterranean (Cedre)


West MOPoCo gathers response centers, experts and officials from coastal States from the Western Mediterranean cooperating to enhance and strengthen their response preparedness to marine pollution from oil and Hazardous and Noxious Substances (HNS).


A diverse regional cooperation ecosystem

West MOPoCo builds on and contributes to a rich regional cooperation ecosystem on marine pollution that includes coastal States administrations, European institutions such as the Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO) and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), European sea-basin strategy, Regional Sea programmes and sub-regional response cooperation agreements and arrangements.

West MOPoCo supports the implementation of Specific Objectives 17, 19, 20, 21 and 22 of the 2016-2021 Regional Strategy for Prevention of and Response to Marine Pollution from Ships (Regional Strategy 2016-2021) of REMPEC.

DG ECHO implements the Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM, funding the project) and operates its Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC). The ERCC hosts the Common Emergency Communication and Information System for Marine Pollution, CECIS Marine Pollution, used by European member States to report marine pollution events and opened to neighbouring non-EU member countries.

EMSA has developed Action Plans (i.e. Oil Action Plan, HNS Action Plan, and the Action Plan for Response to Marine Pollution from Oil and Gas Installations) to which WestMOPoCo seeks to contribute. EMSA offers integrated maritime services to support marine pollution response and monitoring, including surveillance services such as CleanSeaNet, stand-by response vessels, equipment and experts.

West MOPoCo follows the principles promoted by the West MED Initiative for the sustainable blue growth of the Western Mediterranean of collaboration between the two shores of the Mediterranean, its pilot approach, which could be replicated in other areas of the Mediterranean and of creating synergies and building on existing actors and initiatives. It contributes directly to the achievement of priority 6 on maritime safety and the fight against marine pollution of the West MED Roadmap, adopted in Algiers in December 2018[1].

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