The European Parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN) adopted several critical amendments to a European Commission proposal to address pollution from ships in European waters. Negotiations with the Council of the European Union are now set to begin in early November.

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The proposed revised “Directive on port reception facilities for the delivery of waste from ships,” released concurrently with the European Strategy on Plastics in a Circular Economy last January to tackle sea-based sources of marine plastic pollution, sets out to prevent the illegal dumping of garbage and fishing gear at sea.

The flagship measure is referred to as the ‘100 per cent indirect fee’, which restructures port fees to allow ships to deliver all refuse to port for a fixed fee, regardless of quantities. This would remove incentives to illegally dump the garbage at sea in order to reduce costs.

However, MEPs voted divisively on this, with some amendments strengthening the fee system and others weakening it (e.g. amendments which limit the amounts of waste that can be brought to port).

Marc-Philip Buckhout, Policy Officer for Seas At Risk, said: “About 30 per cent of plastics in our seas comes from ships. Today, MEPs have shown a strong resolution to end the dumping of waste at sea, but they should have taken a much stronger stance on the 100 per cent indirect fee”.

The Commission proposal also allows fishermen to deliver waste caught in nets during fishing operations, referred to as “passively fished waste,” to ports at no additional cost to discourage them from throwing it overboard.

TRAN agreed today to significantly strengthen the proposal in many ways, including:

  • Prohibit dumping of plastic at sea. TRAN proposes to prohibit the dumping of plastic at sea under EU law (subject to certain exceptions, such as to ensure crew safety);
  • Fishing-for-litter initiatives and beach clean-Ups. TRAN would require Member States to establish a national fund to support the delivery of passively fished waste to ports, referred to as fishing-for-litter initiatives, and collect waste on coastlines and along shipping lanes;
  • Accidental losses of fishing gear. TRAN would require fishermen to take all reasonable precautions to prevent accidental losses of fishing gear, a major contributor to marine plastic pollution that also kills wildlife through “ghost fishing,” with the specific precautions to be developed by the Commission;
  • Extended Producer Responsibility for fishing gear. TRAN would require Member States to establish extended producer responsibility schemes for fishing gear, including modulated fees that promote circular design and deposit-refund schemes;
  • Inspections and enforcement. TRAN would strengthen inspections and enforcement on smaller vessels, including many fishing vessels and recreational craft;
  • Paraffin pollution. TRAN sets out a series of measures to combat paraffin pollution, noxious remnants of cargo residues that have been washing up on EU coastlines in the North Sea.

With today’s vote, the European Parliament declared war on reckless marine plastic pollution coming from ships and fishing vessels, which has been a long time coming,” said Tim Grabiel, Senior Lawyer at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). “Here’s hoping the Council is willing to fight the good fight alongside the European Parliament and strengthen the proposal further in negotiations.