Introduction of penalties for ship-source pollution in Europe by end of 2010

In October 2009 the European Parliament issued the Directive 2009/123/EC and mandated each Member State to bring it into force by December 2010. This Directive amended the previous Directive 2005/35/EC in regards to ship-source pollution and stricter infringement penalties.

EuropaArticle 1(1) states: The purpose of this Directive is to incorporate international standards for ship-source pollution into Community law and to ensure that persons responsible for discharges of polluting substances are subject to adequate penalties, including criminal penalties, in order to improve maritime safety and to enhance protection of the marine environment from pollution by ships.

A consistent set of legislative measures has already been adopted at EU level to reinforce maritime safety and help prevent ship-source pollution. The legislation in question is addressed to flag States, ship owners and charterers, classification societies, port States and coastal States.

The European Parliament came to the conclusion that the existing system of sanctions for illicit ship-source discharges of polluting substances, as laid out in the previous legislation, needed to be strengthened by introducing criminal penalties.

Indeed, the Directive explains that experience has shown that the existing systems of penalties have not been sufficient to achieve complete compliance with the laws for the protection of the environment.

This Directive should oblige Member States to provide in their national legislation for criminal penalties in respect of those discharges of polluting substances to which this Directive applies. This Directive should not create obligations regarding the application of such penalties or any other available system of law enforcement, to individual cases.

Here are the document major clauses:

  • EU Member States shall ensure that ship-source discharges of polluting substances, including minor discharges, into any area specified in Article 3(1) will be formally regarded as infringements, if committed with intent, recklessly or with serious negligence.
  • EU Member State shall take the necessary steps to ensure that legal persons can be held liable for criminal offences referred to in Article 5a(1) and (3) and Article 5b, if committed for their advantage by any natural person acting either individually or as part of the legal person entity, or with a leading position within the legal person organization, based on:
    • a power of representation for the legal person;
    • authority to take decisions on the legal person behalf; or
    • authority to exercise control within the legal person organization.

Each Member State shall also ensure that a legal person can be held liable if a lack of supervision or control by a natural person, as referred to in paragraph 1, led to a criminal offense, as referred to in Article 5a(1) and (3) and Article 5b, enacted for that legal person advantage by a natural person under its authority.

ECM Europe will continue to monitor the Directive implementation and report any new information to our clients.

Should you have any questions regarding the EU Directive 009/123/EC please contact us at


European Commission

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