Oil pollution response

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Oil spills are one of the most concerning sources of marine pollution, as they are difficult to clean up and can last for long periods of time in the marine environment. They can severely pollute marine and coastal habitats, causing damage to the natural environment and the economy.

Over the past 30 years, the amount of oil transported at sea has been steadily growing. However, the number of oil spills has been in decline.

Between 2010 and 2019, out of 44 medium-sized oil spills (defined as spills of between 7-700 tonnes of oil), only five were located in European seas. During the same period, only three large oil spills (involving more than 700 tonnes of oil) out of a total of 18 such spills, were located in the EU.

The trend is the same for smaller oil spills of less than seven tonnes. In 2019, a total of 7 939 possible such spills were identified via satellite monitoring in EU waters, with 42% confirmed as discharges of various sizes. However, despite an increase in the area covered by satellites, the average number of detections per million km2 has decreased, confirming a positive declining trend in discharges.

EMSA’s role: oil pollution response

EMSA offers a range of services to help coastal States around Europe respond quickly, effectively and efficiently to oil or chemical marine pollution incidents from ships and oil and gas installations.

The services offered by the Agency can be described as a “toolbox” from which the requesting State can pick and choose the most suitable response means. Through these services, EMSA aims to complement and top-up existing response resources at national and regional level.

EMSA’s role: CleanSeaNet

CleanSeaNet is the near real-time European satellite-based oil spill monitoring and vessel detection service, set up and operated by EMSA since April 2007.

It analyses satellite images, mainly from Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) but also from optical missions, to detect possible oil on the sea surface, identify potential polluters and monitor the spread of oil during maritime emergencies.

The CleanSeaNet service is available to all participating States, including EU Member States and their overseas territories, candidate countries and EFTA/EEA States. Each State has access to the service through a dedicated user web interface.

EMSA’s role: MAR-CIS and MAR-ICE

The MAR-CIS chemical information sheets have been developed to assist the relevant authorities charged with responding to incidents involving hazardous and noxious substances (HNS) or chemical spills.

The information sheets contain substance-specific and maritime-relevant information on chemicals, allowing authorities to identify the contents of any possible spill, and make assessments on the danger that may exist for the crew, the nearby population, and the marine environment.

MAR-ICE is a network created by EMSA in close cooperation with the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) and the Centre of Documentation, Research and Experimentation on Accidental Water Pollution (Cedre). The idea behind the Network is to provide information and expert advice on chemicals involved in maritime emergencies. The service is available to national administrations 24/7 via a dedicated contact point.

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