Soberania, Segurança e Defesa

Safe and secure shipping for Europe

The shipping industry typically embraces many different countries both in Europe and beyond, and relies on regulatory frameworks which work best when uniformly adopted and implemented, most especially with regard to safety, security and environmental protection. As one of the operational arms of the European Commission, the European Maritime Safety Agency plays an important role in this process of implementing and enforcing maritime safety legislation and in promoting high quality standards. Based in Lisbon and operational since 2003, EMSA has a workforce of 240 and an annual budget of €55m.

Gateways to trade

Ports act as major logistics hubs linking water and land-based transport to deliver goods smoothly from point of origin to destination. At Europe’s 1 280 merchant ports, as many as 3.6 billion tonnes of goods are handled each year. And, while the main responsibility for the safety of the ships carrying these goods lies with the flag state, port states take up the second line of defence. For this reason, EMSA offers training for port state control officers in cooperation with the Paris Memorandum of Understanding. It also monitors the implementation of the relevant port state control legislation.

By supplying pan-European technical reports that are consistent and comparable to the European Commission, EMSA builds a clear picture of the state of implementation of certain pieces of key EU maritime safety legislation throughout Europe. This role is not confined to port state control, it also covers areas such as vessel traffic monitoring systems, waste reception facilities and seafarer training and certification systems. Neither is EMSA’s sphere of action confined to EU member states. All major seafaring countries whose certificates are recognised by the EU are inspected by EMSA during its visits to assess their national maritime training systems.

Guarding safety standards

An important part of port state control is the checking of certificates such as those issued by recognised organisations acting on behalf of flag state administrations. These certificates establish compliance with the requirements of the relevant standards developed by the International Maritime Organisation (conventions such as SOLAS, MARPOL, Load Lines, Tonnage, etc.). Of the fifty classification societies operating worldwide, twelve are recognised by the EU. It is EMSA’s task to inspect these recognised organisations once every two years to ensure the minimum standards are being met for ship inspections and survey organisations.

It is also EMSA’s task to assist EU member states and the Commission with the work at IMO in the field of ship safety standards, including the reporting on the development of international legislation. This involves providing technical assistance where necessary in the preparation of member state submissions. Currently, the agency is focusing on the damage stability of ro-ro passenger vessels, for which the majority of the world fleet flies EU member state flags and sails in EU waters.

While member state, candidate and potential candidate countries must fulfil flag, port and coastal obligations, they are not alone in this process. One of EMSA’s main tasks is to offer training to the maritime administrations of these countries. EMSA’s training programme covers all fields of the agency’s mandate from port state control to maritime security, traffic monitoring, port reception facilities, marine equipment, pollution prevention and response.

Traffic control in Europe and beyond

Some five million position reports and eleven thousand notifications are exchanged daily through EMSA’s vessel traffic monitoring and information system, SafeSeaNet. This system compiles valuable information about ships travelling in and around EU waters, thanks to its ability to combine Automatic Identification System data and port notifications. Is the vessel carrying hazardous or dangerous goods, for example? Or, has the vessel been involved in an incident at sea? And, when will the vessel arrive in port and when will it depart? All of these help to increase environmental protection as well as to boost the efficiency of tasks such as checking berth availability. Another system, Thetis, named after a goddess of the sea, helps port state control officers to pinpoint ships for inspection. It does this by attributing throughout the EU ship risk profiles, and by determining the scope of inspections and the intervals between them.

While SafeSeaNet puts a spotlight on ships in and around EU waters, it is through Long Range Identification and Tracking of Vessels that EU flagged vessels can be tracked in international waters using satellite communication. EMSA runs the EU’s LRIT Cooperative Data Centre which encompasses 34 countries (27 EU countries, 2 EFTA countries, Croatia and 4 overseas territories) and as one of the largest data centres tracks over 8 000 ships each day.

Vessel traffic monitoring and information systems go a long way to enhance the safety and efficiency of maritime traffic, especially along dense traffic routes. They improve the response of authorities to incidents, accidents and potentially dangerous situations at sea, including search and rescue operations. And, they contribute to better prevention and detection of pollution by ships.

Safeguarding oceans and seas

CleanSeaNet is a satellite-based system designed to detect pollution and polluters around European waters. Since this service began in 2007, it has detected over nine thousand potential spills. The near real time service assists 26 coastal countries in responding to emergencies and in identifying illegal discharges and those responsible for them. CleanSeaNet’s ‘eye in the sky’ helps to deter irresponsible ship operators from polluting European waters.

With the Erika and Prestige environmental disasters came the realisation that drastic reform was needed to protect against the risks of accidental oil spills. Part of the action taken in the ensuing years included the setting up of a fleet of standby oil spill response vessels which at the request of a coastal state or the European Commission can be mobilised within 24 hours. Over the past six years, this standby fleet has expanded to broadly cover the EU’s entire coastline.

Oil pollution is, of course, only one area of concern in safeguarding seas and oceans. Air pollution and greenhouse gases are other areas where EMSA, together with the member states and the Commission, is working to lessen the environmental impact of the shipping industry. EMSA is contributing to technical discussions on more energy efficient ships and less polluting fuels, and promoting a coherent approach throughout Europe to ballast water management.

A coordinated approach

The mission entrusted to EMSA is as relevant today as it has ever been. Shipping in Europe still requires enforceable standards to keep levels of maritime safety and security high, and to ensure mechanisms are in place to prevent pollution by ships where possible and be prepared in the event of an oil spill.

This is an ongoing process in which EMSA holds the role of technical and scientific advisor to the European Commission – assessing the measures in place, updating them and developing new legislation. At member state level, EMSA acts as a bridge promoting cooperation among countries and disseminating best practices.

Through this coordinated approach, EMSA helps Europe rise to the many complex and multifaceted challenges facing the shipping industry today.


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