The International Maritime Organization and Oil Pollution in the Mediterranean Sea


The International Maritime Organization and Oil Pollution in the Mediterranean Sea


Angela Carpenter and Andrey G. Kostianoy


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Maritime transportation has diametric personalities. The advancement in global maritime transportation of oil products has resulted in commercial advantages. This advancement has simultaneously led to environmental disadvantages, sporadically leaving the marine environment in a detrimental position. “Commercial advantages” and “environmental disadvantages” are apparently two central issues that emanate from maritime transportation. Although the disadvantages cannot concretely outweigh the advantages, the “pollution” aspect has coastal states, environmentalists, marine biologists, and international organizations worrying whether economic gain is worth destroying the pristine environment. However, some environmentalists are optimistic and state that the marine environment has a form of resistance-capacity and time may heal the human-initiated damage leading to the point where nature will reinstate itself to its original status. However, what has changed today is that with the advancement in global maritime transportation, the impacts on the marine environment are no longer small, localized, and reversible. Incidents both accidental and operational in nature have raised serious environmental concerns. The Mediterranean Sea is no exception to this concern.

Data reveals that maritime activities in the Mediterranean have increased since the late 1900s and this “increase” will reach a higher plateau by 2018. While no major accidents have been recorded so far, the ubiquity, abundance, and broadness of detected operational spills in the Mediterranean have caught the attention of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Hence, the Mediterranean Sea is distinguished as a “special area” and the need to control oil transportation has become a dire need in order to save the region from anthropogenic impacts. Similar to many anthropogenic impacts on natural systems, oil pollution is one that, despite widespread recognition of the problem, is still growing and even if stopped immediately will persist in the marine environment for years to come. Scientists have proven that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a high molecular weight component (compound) of crude oil, are extremely difficult to clean due to its complex structure. The main problem associated with this component is that they cannot be absolutely degraded by bioremediation efforts. Since the rise in the number of maritime transportation is inevitable, to eradicate problems associated with illegal oil discharge, the Mediterranean Sea area has been designated as a “special area.” The question is whether the initiatives of the IMO to establish a “zero discharge policy” are sufficient to control oil pollution in the Mediterranean Sea? This chapter will endeavor to answer that question.



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Crude oil; Illicit discharge; International Maritime Organization; Maritime traffic; Mediterranean Sea; Oil pollution; Oil tanker; Operational pollution; Special area


Environmental Health and Protection | Environmental Policy | International and Area Studies | Transportation

The International Maritime Organization and Oil Pollution in the Mediterranean Sea