Norway to extend territorial sea to protect marine environment

The Norwegian government has put an ambitious plan before Parliament which is designed to protect its marine environment, that includes extending the country’s territorial sea from four to 12 nautical miles, and the strengthening of control over coastal traffic, especially high-risk transport.

The Government’s new white paper includes measures to reduce the environmental problems caused by offshore petroleum activities, with the intention of reaching a goal of zero emissions, said Environment Minister Børge Brende. Companies will have to use technology that can reduce discharges of polluted water from such operations, with such discharges ended by 2005, and there should be no hazardous discharges from new oil or gas fields.

There will be a research programme in co-operation with the petroleum industry to identify long-term effects of these discharges, and the Government will ensure that environmental impact assessments in the area from the Lofoten Islands northwards are carried out year-round.

“There are serious weaknesses in the way we manage our marine and coastal areas at present,” said Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik. “The Government intends to pursue a coherent and cross-sectoral policy for the marine environment.”

Other initiatives included in the white paper include a strategy for cleaning up polluted fjords and harbours. There are wide-spread problems from long-term discharges of hazardous pollutants, with authorities advising against the consumption of fish and shellfish from 26 harbours and fjords. Plans for cleaning up the most heavily polluted areas are to be completed by 2005.

“We will deal with the acute problems as soon as possible, and give priority too the fjords where there is the greatest risk that pollution will spread,” said Brende.

The pollution of invasive species introduced by ships discharging ballast water, a common problem around the world (see related story), is also to be tackled, both at the national and international level. Steps may include requirements to establish onshore reception facilities, said Brende.

Finally, in order to protect the coast from shipping accidents, the Government would like to extend the country’s jurisdiction to 12 nautical miles, increase tugboat capacity off the north of the country, and a duty to notify authorities of high-risk maritime transport. The oil spill emergency response system along the coast also needs improvement, says the white paper.

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