The Ship Source Pollution Directive has finally been forced through despite stubborn opposition from maritime nations such as Greece, Malta and Cyprus.

Under the compromised Directive plans to introduce prison sentences for captains responsible for oil spills and other marine pollution have been dropped, but shipping firms still face stiff fines if it is found negligence led to a spill.

The upper limit for the fines is set at €1.5 million in the most serious cases, or €150,000 to €300,000 for smaller spills.

The legislation can trace its origins back to the shipwreck of The Prestige off the coast of Spain in November 2002 where over 60,000 tonnes of crude oil created a devastating slick, after which the EU recognised an urgent need to tighten up legislation.

Some 150,000 tonnes of oil find their way into the Mediterranean in a series of smaller spills every year.

The Directive closes loopholes that meant nobody except the ship’s captain or owner of a vessel could be held liable for spills and now anybody within the shipping chain who could have caused or contributed to the pollution can be prosecuted.

It also clarifies the fact that a pollution incident in coastal waters and on the high seas can be seen as a criminal offence.

The Directive is expected to be signed early in September by the President of the European Commission and President of the Council, and be adopted by the 25 EU countries and some of their nautical neighbours by March 2007.

By Sam Bond

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