About UNEP UNEP Offices News Centre Publications Events Awards Milestones UNEP Store
UNEP Website GEO Home Page


Marine oil transport incidents (number) in Europe

Although the number of incidents related to oil transportation has risen over the past two decades, the proportion that actually results in oil spills is decreasing

Source: MAP and REMPEC 1996a

Although shipping is considered to be an environmentally friendly mode of transport, it can have major negative environmental impacts if standards are not observed or enforced. Maritime transport increased in the EU by 35 per cent between 1975 and 1985 but has since levelled off (EUCC 1997). This has had an impact on SO2 emissions: maritime transport now accounts for 10-15 per cent of total SO2 emissions (EEA 1999b). It is estimated that 30 per cent of all merchant shipping and 20 per cent of global oil shipping (see map) crosses the Mediterranean every year (MAP and REMPEC 1996b).

Pollution from land-based sources is still serious in many areas. Many of the 200 nuclear power plants operating throughout Europe (EEA 1999b) are located in coastal regions or along major rivers, because of the large volume of cooling water needed. Since the 1960s, radioactive discharges from the nuclear fleets of the former Soviet navy have affected remote areas of the Arctic and Pacific Oceans (Yablokov 1993). About 150 decommissioned nuclear submarines are rusting in harbours on the Kola Peninsula, Kamchatka and the Russian Far East, representing a potential environmental threat. Although the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) reports that there is no environmental threat from chemical munitions or radioactive substances in the Baltic marine environment, citizens groups are still concerned (HELCOM 2001). Discharges from nuclear reprocessing plants originating from the United Kingdom and France are also a matter of concern in the maritime area of the North Sea and the Atlantic (OSPAR 2001).

Oil tanker routes in the Mediterranean

Some 30 per cent of all merchant shipping and 20 per cent of global oil shipping crosses the Mediterranean every year

Source: MAP and REMPEC 1996b

Pollution by heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants, and contamination by microbes and other substances, occur in all European seas. However, there have been some significant improvements:
  • Inputs of hazardous heavy metals and organic substances into the northeast Atlantic fell significantly between 1990 and 1998 after increasing for several decades. Atmospheric inputs of heavy metals into the North Sea also fell, showing the effect of air pollution abatement policies in the surrounding countries (EEA 2001).
  • Between 1985 and 1998, nitrate concentrations decreased by 25 per cent (against a 50 per cent target) in the coastal areas covered by the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR Convention) and the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (EEA 2000).
  • The reduced phosphate content of detergents and other measures such as wastewater treatment in catchment areas have resulted in an average decrease of phosphate concentrations in some regions, including the Skagerrak, Kattegat, the German Bight and the Dutch coastal zone (EEA 2000).

Wastewater treatment still needs to be improved, however. High population concentrations also result in high levels of wastewater, which is often not sufficiently treated - for example, in the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Black seas. Until the end of the 1980s, large cities on the shores of the Baltic Sea such as St Petersburg (4 million inhabitants) and Riga (800 000 inhabitants) had no wastewater treatment plants (Mnatsakanian 1992).

Solid waste is also a problem in some European seas. A recent study showed that the main sources of solid waste on the coast, sea surface and sea bed in the Mediterranean region are direct disposal from households, tourist facilities and run-off from coastal landfill sites.