Shipping Risk


Shipping traffic in the Mediterranean has increased dramatically over the past 50 years, and as technology has progressed, so has the size, tonnage and speed of vessels. The Eastern Mediterranean especially has extensive vessel traffic as it is a gateway for fuel transport between the Middle East, Black Sea and Western Europe. Short haul passenger transport and recreational cruises are also becoming an increasingly lucrative source of income generated by tourism. This increasingly heavy traffic density brings an increased risk of a maritime accident, which would have drastic environmental and socioeconomic consequences to the region. However, shipping in the area remains largely unmonitored.

The Mediterranean is a biodiversity hotspot; despite making up only 0.82% of the world sea surface area, it has been estimated to hold 4-18% of the world’s marine species, and more than a quarter of its biota is considered endemic to the region.

It is characterized by a large number of small islands and narrow channels and is home to a large number of protected species. In addition, coastal tourism and fisheries are vital for local and national economies. It is therefore of both ecological and socioeconomic interest to protect the eastern Mediterranean Sea from potentially devastating impacts of shipping accidents.

Considering the importance of the region for global biodiversity and for the Greek and international economies, it is absurd that the area is so severely lacking in shipping management strategies compared to similar locations around the world. Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation aims to bring to light the precarious state of maritime conditions in the Aegean Sea, raising awareness among ship owners and authorities alike, to initiate change and to create a better shipping strategy.

Shipping Risk


In the last 50 years, the marine traffic in the Mediterranean has increased significantly. This increase in traffic also increases the possibility of maritime accidents, which could have long-term environmental and socio-economic impacts.

The Aegean Sea has the highest rate of accidents in the Mediterranean. The seafaring conditions prevailing in the Aegean Sea could be regarded as highly dangerous. It is crucial to understand why this is happening in order to reduce the probability of a maritime incident.

The Aegean Sea is a territory of great interest, for both Greece and Turkey, for the fishing and tourism industries.The area hosts unusually high biodiversity and protected habitats, such as Posidonia oceanica meadows and coral reef communities.

The Aegean Sea is considered a high risk area because:

  • There is a lack of regulation, monitoring and enforcement of existing rules and standards.
  • There is a lack of regulation, monitoring and enforcement of existing rules and standards.
  • 50% of ships don't travel under a flag, making them difficult to identify.
  • Hazardous cargo is often transported through unsuitable routes.
  • There are many sensitive habitats that are not considered when ships plan their routes.
  • There is a lack of emergency plans and protocols in case of accidents.


Analysis of Marine Information for Environmentally Safe Shipping

Archipelagos works systematically towards highlighting the hazardous conditions related to shipping in the Aegean Sea and bringing changes that will create a better monitoring system of ship navigation. To achieve this objective, the Institute launched an initiative during which it evaluated the characteristics of vessels in three parts of the Aegean: Evia-Andros, Mykonos-Ikaria and Ikaria-Samos from November 2009 to November 2011.

In total, 72,919 ships were registered passing through these three areas during the two years of research. This equates to the passage of approximately 100 ships per day, of which 65% were cargo ships, 21% were tankers and 5% passenger ships.

Lack of shipping lanes

The Greek archipelago in the Aegean Sea is an example of an area clearly lacking shipping lanes. Should a shipping disaster occur in the Aegean Sea, the economic and ecological impacts would be devastating to both Greece and Turkey, and such damage would last for an extensive period of time.

It is an important region for oil transport, commerce, and fisheries, in which maritime transport plays a crucial role. Due to the unique characteristic of the Aegean Sea, there are numerous vessels traveling in many different directions, providing transport of people and materials to many different locations. However, there is no shipping lane strategy or plan to control maritime transport to help prevent accidents – ships are free to travel at will, which often leads to them selecting unsuitable routes and traveling dangerously close together. Considering the importance of the area for shipping, and in terms of environmental and socio-economic value, the Aegean Sea is grossly lacking in shipping safety strategies.

The enforcement of designated shipping lanes through the most suitable routes has been shown to reduce the number of accidents in other seas globally, therefore reducing the chance of ecological and socio-economic disaster. Archipelagos is working in collaboration with many universities, NGOs, and local and national authorities in order to construct a relevant and current maritime traffic safety strategy in the Aegean Sea. This will ensure that all vessels (passenger, fishing, private, cargo and tankers) from all countries navigate the Aegean in the safest way possible.

Lack of monitoring and lack of enforcement of regulations

In addition to the lack of shipping lanes, there is insufficient monitoring of vessels travelling through the Aegean Sea. The government is obligated to monitor Greek waters; however, port authorities are not provided with boats or appropriate equipment and training to do so. This absence of enforcement creates an environment conducive to unsafe and illegal activities and/or fishing in the Aegean Sea.

A permissive environment, such as the one that exists today in the Aegean Sea, makes life easy for those who wish to fish illegally or transport hazardous cargo inappropriately. Ships are not concerned with being caught, as they are aware that the Greek authorities are lacking in their regulation enforcement. These illegal and unregulated activities contribute to environmental deterioration, and threaten the survival of the seas and national and international economies.

Both Greece and Turkey are members of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which gives them the right to propose the designation of the Aegean Sea as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA). This would involve the better enforcement of Associated Protective Measures (APMs), which aim to protect marine environments from potentially harmful shipping activities.

Flags of Convenience

Ship owners often register their ships to countries that are notoriously known for not enforcing international maritime laws and conventions, have low or no income tax requirements, weak labour and licensing laws, and do not require proper upkeep of the ships flying their flag. These countries that allow foreign ships to register to them are referred to as “flag of convenience” countries, or “open register” countries, and are increasingly used by shipping companies to reduce the costs associated with maintaining proper pollution prevention facilities, licensing, training, andmaintenance, and allowing them to pay lower wages. It is clear why ships registered to these countries are considered high risk and show a higher accident rate due to the substandard conditions of the ships.

Furthermore, registering to such a flag offers more concealment should they get into trouble for an accident as they can quickly transfer to a different country making the legal process more complex. The flag state country has exclusive rights over their flag ships and often do not have the sufficient laws, resources, or will to punish ship owners and compel them to take responsibility for their actions. This increases the risk associated with ships travelling through the Aegean registered to a flag of convenience because they are far more likely to have an accident, and less likely to take responsibility for the consequences.

Tankers carrying hazardous cargo through unsuitable routes

Due to the nature of an archipelago, there are many diverse channels of varying characteristics amongst islands or between islands and the main continent. These channels vary in depth, length, width, biodiversity, and socio-economic importance –and therefore vary in their suitability for shipping traffic. The lack of defined shipping lanes and the lack of monitoring and enforcement of regulations allows all kinds of ship to travel at will through the Aegean Sea, often choosing unsuitable routes. This disordered situation includes, of course, vessels carrying hazardous materials. These ships obviously carry an additional risk, with greater potential for environmental impacts, so the importance of traveling in the safest conditions possible is paramount. The amount of ships carrying hazardous cargo through unsuitable conditions, such as through narrow or shallow channels with high traffic density, is unacceptable. Better shipping monitoring and safety strategies are needed to avoid a maritime disaster.

Previous accidents have caused terrible damage to the Aegean ecosystem and to the fishing economy. Wrecked boats, registered under a “flag of convenience”, have remained at the bottom of the ocean during extensive legal processes in which no party takes responsibility. In the meantime, fuel and chemicals continue to spill into the ocean, and heavy metals continue to leach into the water. These toxic substances can be ingested by marine organisms and travel up the food chain through a process called bio-accumulation, affecting the health of many more organisms and then the people who consume them. These substances often have harmful effects on human health including the development of cancer, genetic mutations, and physiological deformities and abnormalities.

Lack of contingency plans

Exacerbating all the risks described in the previous sectionsis thefact that the Aegean Sea has no contingency plan in place for the occurrence of maritime disasters. This means that in the event of an accident, there is no plan or strategy in place to save lives, minimize socio-economic impacts and protect the environment. Archipelagos is working towards the creation of a contingency plan that will involve collaboration between national and international communities, authorities, and NGOs. This must include adequate equipment and training for all parties. The cost of improving the readiness of the Aegean region will be offset in reducing the catastrophic costs involved in the aftermath of a maritime accident.

Shipping Accidents

wreck-locationsThe highest concentration of shipping accidents in the Mediterranean Sea has been recorded in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey. Should a shipping disaster such as an oil spill occur in this region, the economic and ecological impacts would be devastating, long lasting, and most likely irreversible. As the shipping fleet continues to grow, the potential for an increase in accidents is growing exponentially. This is at a time when ships are increasing in size and are carrying larger quantities of hazardous cargo, which increases the potential scale of an accident.

Exacerbating the risk of accidents is the trend for countries to “flag out” and instead of registering to their country of ownership, they register their ships to a “flag of convenience” country, which are associated with substandard ships and an increased accident rate. The scale of an accident from a “flag of convenience” ship could be higher and the recovery process more complex due to flag states failing to take responsibility.

Improved management is needed to help reduce the future likelihood of an accident, along with the adoption of stricter and more comprehensive laws as they evolve from past experiences, to prevent devastating impacts on the region.


Name Exon Valdez
Date 24th March, 1989
Location Prince Williams Sound, Alaska
Cost of clean up $3.8 billion
Owner Exxon, USA
Ships registry USA
Type of ship Single hulled oil tanker


The Exxon Valdez hit Blights Reef on the Prince Williams Sound, Alaska on 24th March 1989, whilst carrying 210,000,000L of crude oil. The ship spilt an estimated 42,000,000L to 120,000,000L of crude oil into the Prince William Sound. The scale of such a disaster was unprecedented and is since considered to be one of the worst human caused environmental catastrophes. An investigation into the cause of the accident found the failure of the third mate to manoeuvre the ship, the failure of the master to provide proper navigation because of excessive alcohol consumption, and the failure of Exxon Corporation to provide sufficient crew.


The location of the accident was accessible only by helicopter, plane, and boat, which complicated recovery efforts. Dispersants, surfactants and controlled fires were used along with booms and oil skimmers to remediate the oil in the column, while high-pressure hot water was used for cleaning shorelines. More than 11,000 personnel, 1,400 vessels and 85 aircraft were involved in the cleanup, with 4 people dying in the efforts. Even with the massive cleanup effort costing $3.8 billion, it is estimated that only 10% of the oil was recovered with 98,000L of the oil remaining decomposing at a rate of 4% per year.


The oil spilt covered 1,300 miles of coastline, 11,000 square miles of sea, and caused the death of at least 140 bald eagles, 302 harbor seals, 2,800 sea otters and 250,000 seabirds within a few days due to direct contact with the oil. Longer term impacts included the stunted growth of pink salmon in local populations. This in turn adversely affected killer whales, whose populations halved the following year. A study by the University of North Carolina estimated that the recovery of some habitats may take up to 30 years.

Following the accident, salmon, herring, crab, shrimp, rockfish and sablefish fisheries were closed and remained closed through 1990 to allow recovery of stocks. However many of the species never recovered, which has therefore had a massive socio-economic impact on fishing industries that depend on them. Local populations and Native Americans lost their main food source, due to the fear of being poisoned, which continues to affect their lives to date. In addition, the tourism industry lost 26,000 jobs and $2.4 billion in revenue, which has not fully recovered as the areas are still thought of as highly polluted.


Following the accident the state of Alaska passed new laws to help prevent a repeat of the disaster. The state also increased the emergency response fund 50-fold and reviewed and re-wrote all contingency plans. The legal framework was also changed in order to allow larger fines for polluters.

The U.S. Coast Guard now monitors all tankers via satellite as they pass through the Valdez Narrows, around Bligh Island and as they exit the Prince William Sound at the Hinchinbrook Entrance. Two escort ships are now required to follow every tanker and are equipped to assist in the case of an emergency.


Name Prestige
Date 13th of November, 2002
Location Galicia coast, north-western Spain
Cost of clean up $3.2 billion
Owner Mare Shipping Inc, Liberia
Ships registry Bahamas
Type of ship Single hulled oil tanker


On the 13th of November 2002, the Prestige oil tanker sank 30 miles off the Galicia coast in north-western Spain. The single-hulled tanker was transporting 77,000 tonnes of heavy oils, of which an estimated 63,000 tonnes were spilt into the sea. The Greek-operated, Bahamas registered tanker was damaged by a storm which resulted in one of its twelve tanks bursting. The Prestige attempted to dock in port, but was refused by Spain, France and Portugal; despite it being in the interest of these countries to protect their own coastlines. Meanwhile, The Prestige was rapidly deteriorating and the structural integrity was becoming compromised; the starboard hull broke off and the ship later split in half, spilling large quantities of oil before eventually sinking. The oil spill was one of the largest maritime disasters in European history, with environmental damage comparable to that caused by the Exxon Valdez.


The oil spill polluted approximately 1,000km of predominantly Spanish coastline, as well as parts of the French and Portuguese coasts. It severely damaged coastal ecosystems and left the fishing industry devastated.  Experts at the time suggested the spill would have long term consequences, affecting the marine wildlife for at least 10 years.

Environmental impacts:

  • One of the most devastating environmental impacts was the loss of marine habitats, wildlife, and ecosystems. Over 22,000 birds alone were found dead. This figure was in the immediate wake of the disaster, the real number is thought to be significantly higher. Many populations, including cormorants, are thought to have never fully recovered after the destruction of their breeding ground.
  • The oil spill has since compromised the health of certain volunteers involved in the clean-up. They were exposed to toxic pollutants and a study has since shown that some volunteers have since suffered from lung, cardiovascular and chromosome diseases.

Socio-economic impacts:

  • In Galicia the fishing industry is a vital source of income with almost 26,000 people’s livelihoods relying on it. The oil spill led to a fishing ban over the most lucrative time of year, which lasted for several months. Although each fisherman promptly received government compensation of around $1,892 per month, it was still significantly less than they would have earned.
  • The clean-up operation alone was a large cost on the economy, approximated at $3.2 billion. Despite the impact the oil spill had on Spain’s coastal economy, they received only a small percentage of The Prestige’s damage cost due to the complications and politics of international shipping.
  • The actual cost of the damage caused by the oil tanker was estimated at $832 million.


In response to this disaster the EU policy has seen changes. Entry into European ports by single-hulled ships carrying heavy fuel oil is now prohibited. This is only a minor change and does not entirely combat the problem; the Prestige and other such ships are still permitted to sail into European waters as long as they don’t dock in port.

Ten years later, the coastal region of Galicia has recovered to a good state, with the worst affected coastal region, Costa da Morte, now back to its beautiful state. However, environmental damage and loss of select animal populations has been irreversible and it is still possible to find traces of oil today.


Name Sea Diamond
Date 7th of April, 2007
Location Santorini, Greece
Cost of clean up US $6 million, without salvage
Owner Louis Cruises, Cyprus
Ships registry Piraeus, Greece
Type of ship Cruise ship


The Sea Diamond is a cruise ship that sank off the coast of Santorini, Greece, on 7th April 2007, 14 hours after hitting a reef 130m off the coast. The ship was carrying 1,195 passengers and 352 crewmembers when it crashed, with two people losing their lives. Once the evacuation was complete, the ship was towed out to sea to sink – it is currently resting on the wall of the Caldera. No charges were brought against the captain, as the position of the reef varied significantly to its marked position on the charts provided to the captain.  After the accident there was a shore line cleaning program costing $6 million U.S.However, there were limited efforts to extract the remaining oil from the wreck.


The environmental impacts of the accident were massive, as the ship released half of its 572,000L of oil shortly after it sank, smothering marine life and the shoreline alike. The remaining oils on board have been continually leaking since the accident, therefore continuing to cause damage to the marine environment. Apart from the constant leaking of oil from the ship, a range of highly toxic contaminants that were on board are also leaching into the marine environment as the wreck decomposes. Studies have shown that these contaminants are accumulating in marine species of commercial importance, and therefore providing a gateway for the contaminants to enter the human food chain and affect human health.


In the wake of the accident, the Greek Ministry of Maritime Affairs fined Louis Cruises and Captain Marinos $1.57 million U.S. for environmental damages, which the company has still not paid. Louis Cruises commissioned a study by the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research (HCMR) to assess the environmental impacts of the accident and found little evidence of adverse effects caused by the accident, relieving pressure for the full salvage of the ship. However, there is concern that this study was not fully comprehensive, and as evidence mounts to the true impact of the wreck, Archipelagos has been lobbying the EU to apply pressure on the Greek government and Louis Cruises to ensure the full salvage of the vessel and the recovery of fines owed in order to end this environmental tragedy.


Name Costa Concordia
Date 13th of January,  2012
Location Giglio, Italy
Cost of clean up Ongoing
Owner Carnival Corporation & plc, UK/USA
Ships registry Genoa, Italy
Type of ship Cruise ship


The Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia ran aground on January 13th 2012, becoming the most recent maritime disaster. Costa Concordia set sail on its routine cruise across the Mediterranean until the journey took a devastating turn for the worse for all 4,234 people on board. The cruise liner hit a protrusion of rocks just shy of the Island of Giglio. The impact of the hit damaged the hull leading to an influx of water, causing the vessel to tilt to one side. Evacuation efforts were fraught due to the angle of the ship and the disaster tragically resulted in a confirmed death toll of 25 people. There is much controversy surrounding the captain’s navigation as it is reported he was sailing too close to shore and then later abandoned the ship via a lifeboat. The concern now is to ensure that the 2,400 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, as well as some suspected diesel, is safely extracted.

Environmental/human Impacts:

  • Currently the Costa Concordia is lying in the largest marine protected area in Italy, the Tuscan Archipelago National Park. This is a highly bio-diverse region and is importantly an occasional habitat for the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal. The current fear for the environment is over the potential impacts of the heavy fuel oil should the extraction process go wrong. The Costa Concordia had not long commenced its journey before crashing, therefore carrying the full journeys worth of fuel.  If spilt, the 2,400 tonnes of oil may not classify as one of the biggest or most expensive of all time, but would still have devastating effects on coastal economies, the environment and animal populations, and could work its way through the food chain up to the largest of marine mammals and humans.
  • Aside from the obvious pollutant of fuel, the vessel carried other pollutants which may harm the food chain and ecosystems, such as human waste (which is fortunately not likely to be too damaging due to the stage of the journey), and chemicals such as swimming pool treatment, cleaning products, etc.
  • The salvage operation team is key in extracting the oil; they put themselves at risk to carry out the complex operation at in an unpredictable environment.

Socio-economic impacts

It is predicted that this disaster could impact the tourist cruise industry. Costa Concordia’s parent company, Carnival Cruise Lines stock price has seen a 20% decline, providing an indication of the consequence this incident could have on the cruise industry.


The Costa Concordia accident has not yet prompted a change in legislation. However, there is a continuing effort by salvage associations to change the law regarding salvage operators. In 2010 they requested to change the law to downsize their financial responsibility if their attempts to avoid pollution were unsuccessful. As it stands the vessels owner is liable for the damages, so if a problem arises whilst trying to extract the diesel from The Costa Concordia, the salvage team is held responsible.


Name MV Erika
Date 12th of December, 1999
Location Bay of Biscay, France
Owner Tevere Shipping, Malta
Type of ship Single hulled oil tanker


The MV Erika, a Maltese oil tanker, sank off the coast of France near Penmarch (70km south of the Brittany coast) after the captain lost control during treacherous storms. On the 8th of December 1999, the ship left port in Dunkirk (northern France) carrying a cargo of around 20,000 tonnes of diesel oil, but as it made its way to its destination port of Livorno (Italy), it encountered a large storm (60mph winds and 20ft waves) in the Bay of Biscay (west coast of France), which destroyed the ship and resulted in a major environmental disaster.

On the 11th of December, after struggling in bad weather conditions, the hull of the low budget ship cracked, allowing water to flood onboard. Early in the morning on December 12th, a French coastguard helicopter responded to a distress call from the ship and safely evacuated all 26 Indian crew members. The oil tanker later split in two and finally sank to a depth of 120m, leaching thousands of tonnes of oil into the Atlantic Ocean.

The accident most likely occurred due to a combination of the ship’s old age (25 years old at the time), a lack of maintenance (although the tanker was reportedly in good condition according to Italian shipping classification society, RINA) a lack of monitoring, and adverse weather conditions.

Environmental impacts

  • The sinking of the MV Erika was the worst environmental disaster ever seen in France at the time, killing much marine life and polluting the ocean bed and coastline of Brittany. The species living in these coastal habitats (e.g. crustaceans and invertebrates) were most likely affected, although no monitoring of the effects on them was carried out. These animals form the base of the marine food chain, so the fish, birds, and marine mammals that depend on them would have also been affected.
  • Oil-stricken birds were reported and conservationists estimated that between 100,000-300,000 birds would die or be injured due to the disaster.  Up to 50 different species of birds were reportedly affected, with 75% of the birds recovered being guillemots. Those species heavily affected luckily had stable populations, but it could have been a very different story if they had been threatened species with unstable populations.
  • In comparison to other disasters, a relatively small amount of oil was spilt but had a disproportionately large impact due to adverse weather conditions, which facilitated the oil’s dispersal,and the fact that the heavy fuel oil persists in the marine environment and can travel long distances.

Socioeconomic impacts

  • The accident had socioeconomic impacts on those involved in clean-up operations, fishermen, oyster farmers, the tourist sector and the shellfish food industry. Following the accident, France’s food safety authority (AFSSA) recommended a ban on shellfish from the area affected by the Erika oil spill because sedentary shell fish (e.g. oysters and mussels) may have accumulated some of the potentially carcinogenic chemicals from the oil.


Blame for the accident shifted between the owner, the captain, the ‘flag’ under which the vessel sailed (a flag of convenience), and RINA who monitored the vessel. The official inquiry came to the conclusion that the cause of the disaster was due to poor repairs of the ballast tanks by RINA, less than 2 years before the MV Erika sank. In January 2008, RINA, Total SA (one of the world’s major oil and gas groups), the vessels owner and his manager had to jointly pay 192 million euros, and each suffered individual penalties. In total, those who chartered the tanker spent £85 million sealing the hull and trying to pump out the rest of the oil still in the cargo tanks.

The wreck of Erika prompted new EU legislation with regard to transport by sea. In 2001 the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Marine Environmental Protection Committee enforced a regulation ending the use of single-hulled tankers and implemented the introduction of double hulls, as well as limiting the age of tankers. The regulation stated that single-hulled tankers with certain anti-pollution standards could continue sailing until 2015, or their 25th birthday, whichever came sooner. The accident also triggered response by the European Commission who brought in new regulations, first as a package known as Erika I (March 2000), then Erika II (December 2000), and finally Erika III (April 2009).

  • Erika I
    • Better control systems in ports with stricter banning procedures and more in-depth inspections
    • Timetable for eliminating single hulls
  • Erika II
    • Proposal of a fund to compensate victims of oil spills
    • Traffic regulations in European waters
    • European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) to be created in 2003 to collect data and oversee inspections and controls
    • Made it compulsory for member states to have ports of refuge for ships in distress
  • Erika III
    • EU obligation for ship owners and ships to ensure against environmental damage
    • System for monitoring maritime traffic
    • Better working and living conditions on tankers

This accident further demonstrates the need for a comprehensive risk assessment of the European coastline to prevent further spills.

Deep Water Horizon

Name Deep Water Horizon
Date 20th of April, 2010
Location Gulf of Mexico
Cost of clean up $11.2 billion
Owner BP, UK
Ships registry Marshall Islands (FOC)
Type of ship Oil rig (deep sea)


The Deep Water Horizon Oil Rig exploded on April 20th, 2010, and sank on the 22ndof April, 2010, causing the largest marine oil spill in history. An estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico, eclipsing the previous largest oil spill, the Mandoil II, which leaked an estimated 300,000 barrels. It took BP a total of 86 days to stop the leak after a series of failed attempts. The accident was caused when high-pressure gas escaped from the well due to a failure in the cementing process, causing a blow out and the destruction of the rig. This resulted in 11 of the 126 workers on board losing their lives. The Rig was owned by Transocean Ltd, leased to BP, and operated under the Marshallese flag of convenience. BP accepted responsibility for the oil spill and the clean-up costs but indicated that Transocean deserved significant blame for the disaster.


The leak caused an oil slick covering 28,958 square miles which impacted a total area of 68,000 square miles. Apart from the visible oil slicks, underwater plumes of oil were also discovered at depths of over 1,000m, measuring up to 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and up to 300 feet thick. In the response to the accident, more than 37,000 people, 1.345 million gallons of dispersants, 6,300 vessels, and 6.7 million feet of booms were used in the clean-up.

Environmental impacts

The true environmental impacts of the disaster are still unknown due to the fact that the spill occurred at a great depth and the deep water habitats affected are difficult to monitor. Also, the toxicological effects and long term impacts on algae, fish eggs, the larvae of various invertebrates, and breeding patterns will not become clear for several years. A report after the accident listed the following known impacts on wildlife;

  • Approximately 6000 dead birds.
  • Approximately 600 sea turtle carcasses.
  • At least 100 marine mammal carcasses (mortality of marine mammals during the spill could actually more than 250 times higher since whales and dolphins tend to quickly sink when they die)

Socioeconomic impacts

  • Directly after the accident, fishing was banned in over 85,000 square miles of U.S. waters in the Gulf of Mexico. This had a huge impact as the region usually harvests over 1 billion tons of fish per year, with the 5.7 million recreational fishermen in the region taking 25 million fishing trips a year.
  • The threat of the oil lead to wide spread hotel cancelations.
  • The cost of the response to the accident was estimated at $11.2 billion but as civil court cases proceed, this figure is likely to rise substantially. BP reached a settlement deal of $7.8 billon with the largest group of plaintiffs suing the company.


Since the accident no major government legislation has been passed that would provide a better spill response. In addition, much of the data on the spill and the impacts are still not public knowledge due to on-going criminal procedures.

Shipping Management

The Aegean Sea is grossly lacking in shipping safety strategies, which presents a great threat to the area’s sensitive coastal habitats and economies and poses a great risk to human safety.

Compared to other sensitive seas globally, the Aegean is lacking in shipping management strategies, so this section identifies possible mechanisms that could reduce the risk associated with shipping in the area, and provides examples of other areas where shipping management has been successful in reducing the chance of an accident.

Shipping management strategies

There are certain shipping management strategies that need to be applied in the Aegean Sea to prevent a major catastrophe with dramatic ecological and socio-economical consequences from taking place.

Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) defines Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSAs) as “areas that need special protection through action because of their significance for recognized ecological, socio-economic or scientific reasons, and which may be vulnerable to damage by international maritime activities”. An area can be designated as a PSSA if it “fulfills a number of criteria. This could include ecological components; such as unique or rare ecosystems, diversity of the ecosystem or vulnerability to degradation by natural events or human activities; social, cultural and economic criteria, such as significance of the area for recreation or tourism; and scientific and educational criteria, such as biological research or historical significance”.

The Aegean Sea easily fulfills all of these criteria and its potential designation as a PSSA would be an invaluable step in the effort to prevent a major shipping catastrophe from taking place.

management-areas2There are currently 12 PSSA areas around the world and four of these are in European waters (Wadden Sea, Eastern Atlantic Waters, Baltic Sea and Canary Islands). In recent years there has been considerable interest in applying for PSSA status for a number of locations in the Mediterranean Sea. There is concern that another large PSSA area in European waters would weaken the value of PSSA designation so we need to identify smaller regional areas that meet specific criteria and would be suitable candidates for PSSA designation. This is particularly timely considering that the European Union wants to expand maritime commerce by promoting short sea shipping by “motorways at sea”, and two of the four proposed highways pass through the Mediterranean Sea.



When an area is designated as a PSSA, it doesn’t automatically entail any protective mechanisms so it must be accompanied by Associated Protected Measures (APMs). APMs can either be new measures proposed by the applicant or be measures already in place in other existing PSSAs.

The following APMs have been suggested to be appropriate when applying for a PSSA for the Aegean Sea:

Traffic lanes must be put in place and strictly enforced, with constant monitoring systems and Vessel Traffic service Systems (VTS).

Areas to be avoided should be put in place in the Aegean to protect areas of high biodiversity, endangered and protected species and habitats.

Ship monitoring systems are needed to make contact with ships the moment that they steer off course or come into danger. Monitoring should be implemented via satellite systems.

Pilotage systems should be in place and work effectively to steer ships through narrow passages or troubled waters.

In addition:

Adequate port reception facilities are needed, along with monitoring, penalties and fines in order to make sure that discharges are not happening in the Aegean Sea.

Contingency planning for oil spills with training and drills should be conducted periodically in order to keep authorities alert and ready.

Rapid response teams are needed with readily available barges, emergency docking systems and clean-up crews. This should include the most up to date methods for fast oil recovery systems.

Work closely with the EU’s European Maritime Safety Agency for training.

The Baltic Sea is a small basin of brackish water, characterized by narrow straights and shallow waters. During winter the straights are concealed by thick ice, resulting in hazardous conditions dangerous for maritime navigation. Despite the Baltic’s size and changeable conditions, it supports one of the largest networks of shipping traffic, encircled by some of the world’s most economically developed countries including Germany, Finland and Sweden. People and goods are transported between the surrounding countries, making up 15% of the world’s cargo transportation. This intense level of traffic inevitably impacts the environment, but the Helsinki commission works hard to combat these impacts. The Baltic Sea is a key example of where regulations have been successfully implemented to manage shipping traffic.

The Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) is an intergovernmental organization comprised of all nine countries bordering the Baltic and the European community who work in collaboration to ‘protect the Baltic marine environment from all sources of pollution and to ensure the safety of navigation and efficient response to pollution from shipping in the region.’

General Management

One fundamental management strategy in The Baltic is real-time monitoring of ship traffic. Land-based AIS stations log the activity of ships, which allows authorities to monitor and manage shipping activity within the Baltic. They can ensure safe shipping by producing risk analyses, search and rescue operations, and undertaking port state control, as well as other security and safety measures.

Safety measures agreed upon by the Baltic Sea states are:

  • Ship traffic monitoring
  • Ship routing – Transit routes are in place for deep draught ships entering the Baltic, including five deep water routes and 19 traffic separation routes. This navigational map, provided online at, is a fundamental resource for safely navigating the Baltic Sea.
  • Ship reporting – It is compulsory for ships to submit a report to the Vessel Traffic System
  • Three reporting systems are compulsory: BELTREP, GOFREP and GDANREP.
  • Reporting systems on approach to oil terminals are compulsory.
  • SOUNDREP is optional but recommended for large vessels travelling the Sound between Denmark and Sweden.
  • Pilotage – the guidance of a vessel, essential for loaded oil tankers with a big draught.

Other management measures

Management of oil –  Measures are also established in the Baltic to deal with illegal oil discharging. It is prohibited to discharge any oil or diluted mixtures containing oil over 15 parts per million. This discharge ban is enforced within in the Baltic; the majority of vessels must dispose of their oil waste to treatment facilities before exiting the port.  Through regular aerial and satellite monitoring, operational discharges can be identified and the technology can also assist with accidental oil spills.

Management of wasteDespite the low levels of sewage discharge in the Baltic, it is still necessary to regulate this as the slightest quantities can impact upon the complex marine environment. Marpol 73/78 (the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships) insists on several protocols:

  • Comminuted and disinfected sewage must be discharged a minimum distance of three nautical miles from land.
  • Non-comminuted or disinfected sewage must be discharged a minimum distance of 12 nautical miles from shore, and not as a single discharge, but at a moderate rate when the vessel is travelling at more than 4 knots.
  • Managing illegal vesselsSince the 2002 Prestige oil slick, it is required for oil tankers carrying heavy grade oil to have a double hull which is enforced in the Baltic Sea and system has been created to detect single hull tankers. It is an effective system and since its launch, it has detected over 140 single hull tankers. 
  • Managing invasive alien speciesA motion is currently being set in place to reduce the risk of invasive alien species entering the Baltic Sea through ballast water exchange. All HELCOM countries have sanctioned the 2004 International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments. This convention will insist that each ship adheres to the Ballast Water and Sediments Management Plan. The ships must undertake ballast water management procedures and log them in a record book which should be carried at all times.

The Dover Strait, a region of the “English Channel” or “La Manche”, is the busiest shipping area in the world, with over 400 vessels passing through the area on a daily basis. It is between 30 and 40km wide, with depths ranging from 35 to 55 metres.  The main shipping route in the area is from the Atlantic Ocean to the North Sea and is composed mainly of cargo-ships, tankers and passenger vessels. In addition to the traffic through the strait, there are high-speed ferries which are crossing the strait in the opposite direction, from the UK to France, carrying as many as 2,400 passengers per day, as well as recreational boats. It is also common for people to attempt to swim across the channel, accompanied by nearby small vessels for safety.

Apart from being narrow and shallow with vessels travelling in all possible combinations of speeds and directions, the geographical and climatic conditions further complicate the situation in the channel. The Dover Strait is characterized by strong tides, sandbanks, gale-force winds, rain, and on many days the visibility is reduced by fog, which can change extremely quickly from onemoment to the next.  Added to this is the fact that many ships carry hazardous cargo, which would have drastic environmental and socio-economic consequences for the coastlines of England, France and other North Sea states should an accident occur. All these factors create a very dangerous navigating passage where strong control and legislation are required in order to monitor, regulate and reduce the risk of maritime accidents.

Management tools in place include

Ship reporting: The Dover Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in the UK and CROSS Gris Nez in France are operating in a functional, collaborative strategy with the Channel Navigation Information Service (CNIS) to provide 24-hour radio and radar safety services for all shipping in the Dover Strait. Mandatory reports are required for vessels over 300 gross tones passing through the South-West and North East Lanes.

Traffic separation scheme: This was established in accordance with the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) which designates clear lanes that ships must use when travelling through the strait, the rules of which are internationally agreed. These rules have been established for many other seas, including the Aegean Greek and Turkish region.

The Dover Strait is one of the best examples of maritime shipping strategies where a very strict enforcement of laws by the English and French authorities is in place. Both France and the UK adhere to the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea. There are also several laws specific to the region:

The French administration created specific laws that are applied to different vessel classifications, for example establishing a 300m off shore limit for small vessels.

French legislation, with the Channel Swimming Association (CSA) and the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation (CS&PF), states an obligatory notice for non-quotidian events such as regattas, races or cross channel swimming attempts.

The Maritime Prefect of the Channel and the North Sea has specifically forbidden un-notified swimming and conjoint activities within the Dover Strait Traffic Separation Scheme.

The success of the traffic strategy in the Dover Strait is based on comprehensive laws and international treaties coupled with a strict monitoring system. With its strict enforcement of regulations to reduce accidents and protect the people and environment, the Dover Strait stands out from other such densely trafficked areas.

The Gulf of Finland is located in the eastern part of The Baltic Sea, stretching between Finland and Estonia, with the easternmost parts belonging to Russia. The gulf comprises only 5% of the water volume of the entire Baltic Sea, but it is the most eutrophicated. The marine environment there is especially vulnerable due to the small water volume, slow water-exchange and low number of species.

As Russia steadily establishes more ports in the eastern Gulf of Finland, the traffic will increase in an east-west direction. The Finnish Environment Institute estimates that the oil shipping will increase from current 155 million tons to 200-230 million tons in the near future. More than 7 million passengers are also travelling between Finland and Estonia every year. The main risk factor in the Gulf of Finland is thus the amount of cargo and passenger ships crossing in addition to the extensive recreational boating taking place from spring to autumn.

The Gulf of Finland is shared by 3 countries, and cooperation between them is a challenge as Russia isn’t a member of the EU, although it is a member of HELCOM and the IMO. Russia is the only country around the Baltic Sea that hasn’t signed the designation of the Baltic Sea as a PSSA.

Management overview

There are a range of problems associated with maritime safety in the Gulf of Finland, both internal, such as the condition of the ship and the proficiency of the crew, and external, such as pilotage, weather, and ice conditions. All of these factors are managed within the Gulf of Finland to reduce risks and encourage maritime safety in an area that would otherwise pose treacherous conditions.

Regulation of vessels construction

Within the Gulf of Finland, all vessels are inspected to ensure they are in a good, reliable condition to ensure maritime safety. IMO and the SOLAS conventions are, in large, responsible for the regulation of vessel conditions which include construction, subdivision and stability; equipment; navigation; stowage, handling and nature of the cargo carried.

Managing Compliance with Vessel Construction Regulations

To implement the above regulations there are numerous divisions of management systems, including:

Flag state control; the state under which the vessel is registered is responsible for ensuring that the ship fulfills IMO requirements.

Port state control; works alongside flag state control due to different standards among flag states, to identify deficiencies in ships.

PARIS MOU (The Paris Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control). Their mission is ‘to eliminate the operation of sub-standard ships through a harmonized system of port State control.’

Vetting inspections; some charterers inspect their own ships, after doubting the effectiveness of port state and flag state inspections.

Managing the navigation of vessels

To reduce the level of accidents at sea, many navigational instruments and schemes are in place in the Gulf of Finland. These include:

VTS (Vessel Traffic Services) as required by The SOLAS Convention

Ship reporting systems with IMO approval

Traffic separation schemes and routing

Traffic recommendations and restrictions


Waterway safety

Nautical charts

Information supply

Towage services

Information management

Throughout the Baltic Sea, including the Gulf of Finland, information is available from the website, which provides information on winter navigation, such as up to date information regarding the ice and traffic situation. Training or ice navigation is also available on the site to mariners within the Baltic.

Shipping Laws


International regulations are essential for monitoring maritime safety, as ships can navigate through different countries’ territorial waters. The highest level of maritime safety regulations is defined on an international level (UN), but there are also regulations at supra-national (EU), national and regional levels.  The lower levels of regulations must always be consistent with the higher levels, or else their implementation will be unsuccessful.


Coastal waters are divided into three zones for the purpose of international law – territorial waters, the contiguous zone, and the exclusive economic zone (EEZ).  Beyond the EEZ, waters are considered part of the “High Seas”, which are beyond the jurisdiction of any state.  Coastal states exercise sovereignty over their territorial waters, which can extend up to 12 nautical miles. The current internationally recognized territorial waters for Greece (and Turkey) are 6 nautical miles off the coast of the mainland and islands. A right of “innocent passage” through territorial seas is well established in international law.  Ships exercising this right are generally immune from coastal jurisdiction (judicial processes), but remain subject to coastal control with respect to sanitation guidelines and navigation rules.  The High Seas were traditionally seen as an area that was beyond the jurisdiction of any State.  All States enjoyed freedoms of unobstructed navigation and overflight and uncontrolled fishing and exploitation of seabed resources.  This purely exploitative idea of freedom of the sea ended after World War II when it was realized that the resources of the seas are not inexhaustible.

The International Level (UN and IMO)

  1. UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) establishes rules governing uses of the oceans and seas and their resources, developing guidelines for business, environment and management of marine natural resources.  The Convention was opened for signature in 1982 and entered into force in 1994. Greece signed the Convention in 1982 and ratified it in 1995.

  1. The International Maritime Organization (IMO)

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is the specialized UN agency responsible for the regulation of shipping engaged in international trade with respect to maritime safety and security and the prevention and control of pollution by ships. IMO’s main task has been to develop and maintain a comprehensive regulatory framework for shipping. Its responsibility today includes safety, environmental concerns, legal matters, technical co-operation, maritime security and the efficiency of shipping. IMO plays a key role in ensuring that lives at sea are not put at risk and that the marine environment is not polluted by shipping, as summed up in the IMO’s  mission statement: Safe, Secure and Efficient Shipping on Clean Oceans. Greece has been a member of the IMO since 1958.

No country can exert jurisdiction on the High Seas, but the IMO can. The Titanic disaster of 1912 generated the first International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) in 1974, still the most important treaty addressing maritime safety. The key objective of SOLAS is the prevention of accidents and to “specify minimum standards for the construction, equipment and operation of ships, compatible with their safety and security”. Flag States are liable to ensure that their ships fulfill the requirements in the convention and certificates are given as a proof of this being completed.  The second major IMO convention relevant to the establishment of sea lanes and traffic separation schemes is the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972 (COLREGs). The COLREGs contain 38 rules on issues such as steering and sailing, lights and shapes, and sound and light signals.

Traffic Separation Schemes (T.S.S.)

Traffic Separation Schemes and other ship routing systems have now been established in most major congested shipping areas of the world and the number of collisions and grounding has been dramatically reduced in many areas.

IMO’s responsibility for ships’ routing is enshrined in SOLAS Chapter V, which recognizes the organization as the only international body for establishing such systems.

Regulation SOLAS V/10 Ship routing states:

  1. Ships routing systems contribute to safety of life at sea, safety and efficiency of navigation and/or protection of the marine environment.

Vessel Traffic Services (VTS)

Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) are shore-side systems which range from the provision of simple information messages to ships, such as position of other traffic or meteorological hazard warnings, to extensive management of traffic within a port or waterway.

Generally, ships entering a VTS area report to the authorities, usually by radio, and may be tracked by the VTS control centre.

Ships must keep watch on a specific frequency for navigational or other warnings, while they may be contacted directly by the VTS operator if there is risk of an incident or, in areas where traffic flow is regulated, to be given advice on when to proceed.

SOLAS Chapter V (Safety of Navigation) states that governments may establish VTS when, in their opinion, the volume of traffic or the degree of risk justifies such services.

  • The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 relating thereto and by the Protocol of 1997 (MARPOL).
  • The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) as amended, including the 1995 and 2010 Manila amendments.
  • The International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR), 1979.
  • The International Convention on Salvage (SALVAGE), 1989

The Supra-National Level (EC/EU)

The European Commission (EC) signaled their intent to begin regulating maritime safety and pollution by issuing a statement on a common policy for Safe Seas in 1993. This communication outlined an action plan designed to eliminate substandard operators regardless of the flag of the ship and to promote uniform enforcement, improve crew training and bring about a harmonized development of navigational aids and traffic surveillance infrastructure. Since 1993, the EC has adopted a number of maritime safety instruments that depart from the international legal regime and impose stricter requirements on Member States.

In response to the disaster in 1999, when Erika sank and spilled large amounts of oil causing massive damage to the marine environment, the EC adopted measures aimed at improving port state control measures to strengthen legislation regarding classification societies which conduct structural safety checks and to develop a timetable to phase out the use of single-hull tankers (this set of measures is known as the ‘Erika I’ package).  This package went into effect in 2003 and foreshadowed a second stage in which the EC envisioned more elaborate measures aimed at increasing transparency, heightening surveillance, and extending the liability to carriers and owners of the cargo.

These more elaborate measures were adopted as the ‘Erika II’ package.  ‘Erika II’ contained significant measures designed to improve maritime safety, including the creation of a European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) and the establishment of a community maritime monitoring and information system for all vessels sailing in European waters. The EMSA was established to ensure a “high, uniform and effective level of maritime safety and prevention of pollution by ships within the Community.”  EMSA’s main role is to provide scientific and technical support to Member States relating to legislation for maritime safety and security, as well as pollution prevention and response.  The EMSA also assists the EC in the implementation of legislation on maritime safety by monitoring the overall functioning of the port State control regime and suggesting possible improvements.

A third set of proposals was adopted in March 2009 which aimed at improving the effectiveness of accident response and reinforcing prevention measures.  From the perspective of navigation safety, the relevant measures amend the directive on traffic monitoring by strengthening the legal framework to help ships in distress and support the continued development of SafeSeaNet, an electronic data information system that allows Member States to monitor the movement of ships carrying potentially hazardous cargo.  

The Paris Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control

It is clearly understood that responsibility for ensuring ship compliance with the provisions of the relevant instruments rests upon the owners, masters and the flag States. Unfortunately, certain flag States, for various reasons, fail to fulfill their commitments contained in agreed international legal instruments and subsequently, some ships are sailing the world’s seas in an unsafe condition, threatening the lives of all those on board as well as the marine environment.

The Paris Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control is a system of harmonized inspection procedures designed to target sub-standard ships with the main objective being their eventual elimination.

The National Level (copied from the document “Greek laws-overview”)

National Law has transposed the entire legislative framework, both of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and of the European Union, into Laws, Presidential Decrees, Ministerial Decisions, etc. More specifically:

  • Joint Ministerial Decision 8111.1/41/09 on the harmonization of Greek legislation with Directive 2000/59/ΕΚ on port reception facilities for ship-generated waste and cargo residues.
  • Law 1269/82 on the ratification of MARPOL 73/78, prevention of pollution of the sea by ships, and all relevant amendments.
  • Law 743/77 as codified by Presidential Decree 55/98 on the protection of the marine environment.
  • Law 1650/86 on the protection of the environment.
  • Law 3010/02 on the harmonization of Law 1650/86 with Directives 97/11/EC and 96/61/EC, the procedure of restriction and the settlement of issues of waterways, and other provisions.
  • Presidential Decree 88/97 on ship inspections, as amended by Presidential Decree 16/99, Presidential Decree 233/01 and Presidential Decree 346/03.
  • Presidential Decree 82/04 on the measures, terms and plan for the alternative management of waste oil.
  • Joint Ministerial Decision 13588/725/2006 on the measures, terms and restrictions for the management of hazardous waste in compliance with the provisions of Directive 91/689/EC.
  • Joint Ministerial Decision 8668/2007 on the approval of a national plan for the management of hazardous waste.
  • Joint Ministerial Decision 7589/731/2000 on toxic and hazardous waste and the elimination of polychlorinated biphenyl and polychlorinated terphenyl.
  • Ministerial Decision 3131.1/01/99 on the conditions and safety precautions when loading oil or liquid chemicals (and residues) in bulk, as amended by Ministerial Decision 2122/06/01, and in conjunction with the provisions of Presidential Decree 146/98 and Presidential Decree 405/96.
  • Presidential Decree 400/96 regulating the prevention of pollution of the sea by ship sewage.