The marine environment is a precious asset, since oceans and seas cover 70% of the Earth's surface and contain 90% of its biosphere. Of all forms of pollution, sea pollution is one of the most dangerous because of its consequences for fundamental biological and ecological balances, the degree of degradation already reached, the diversity of sources of pollution and the difficulty of monitoring compliance with measures adopted. Apart from the accidental spillage of hydrocarbons in the sea, the main sources of sea pollution are land-based ones, i.e. the discharge of effluent from land and discharges of waste at sea. Therefore, the measures taken to control discharges into the aquatic environment, examined above, combat marine pollution.
The danger of serious pollution from massive discharges of hydrocarbons for the coasts of the EU States and for the seas surrounding them became a matter of common concern, in 1978, after the shipwreck of the giant oil tanker "Amoco-Cadiz" and the serious pollution of the coasts of Brittany that ensued. In June 1978 the Council set up an action programme of the European Communities on the control and reduction of pollution caused by hydrocarbons discharged at sea [Council Resolution]. In order to implement this action programme the Commission set up under its aegis an Advisory Committee on the Control and Reduction of Pollution Caused by Hydrocarbons Discharged at Sea [Decision 80/686]. International standards for ship-source pollution are incorporated into European law and ensure that persons responsible for environmental disasters resulting both from the pollution caused by accidents involving ships carrying substances harmful to the marine environment and from deliberate discharges by ships, including tank-cleaning and waste oil disposal at sea, are subject to adequate penalties [Directive 2005/35].
In a Resolution, the Council underlines that European measures on maritime safety and pollution control must apply to all vessels operating in the European Union waters irrespective of their flag. In its view, further EU action in this field should have the following objectives: to tighten up ship inspection and withdraw sub-standard vessels; to improve shipping safety; to identify environmentally sensitive areas, on the basis of current legislation and international guidelines, and to propose specific measures for those areas to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
In fact, the effort to combat pollution of the seas requires action not only at European, but at international level too. The European Union accordingly participates as such in the international agreements against the pollution of the North Sea and the Mediterranean, including: the Bonn Agreement for cooperation in dealing with pollution of the North Sea by oil and other dangerous substances [Agreement and Decision 84/358 and Decision 93/540]; the Helsinki Convention on the protection of the Baltic Sea [Convention and Decision 94/157]; the Convention for the protection of the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR Convention) [Convention, Decision 98/249 and Annex V to the Convention]; the Barcelona Convention on the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution [Convention and Decision 77/585]; the Protocol concerning cooperation in combating pollution of the Mediterranean Sea by oil and other harmful substances in cases of emergency [Protocol and Decision 81/420]; the Protocol for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution from Land-based Sources [Protocol and Decision 83/101]; and the Protocol against pollution resulting from exploration and exploitation of the continental shelf and the seabed and its subsoil [Decision 2013/5 and Protocol]. The revision of the Barcelona Convention and its Protocols, signed in June 1995, extended its scope to cover coastal zones and introduced sustainable development objectives and principles such as prevention and the "polluter pays" [see section 16.2.2], use of the best available technologies and use of impact assessments. The Council has authorised the Member States to sign, ratify or accede to, in the interest of the European Community/Union, the Protocol of 2003 to the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage [Decision 2004/246].
Environmental pillar of the integrated maritime policy advocated by the Commission [see section 22.1], the so-called "Marine Strategy Framework Directive" established a framework within which Member States must take the necessary measures to achieve or maintain good environmental status in the marine environment by the year 2020 at the latest [Directive 2008/56]. They must, in particular: (a) protect and preserve the marine environment, prevent its deterioration or, where practicable, restore marine ecosystems; and (b) prevent and reduce inputs in the marine environment, so as to ensure that there are no significant impacts on or risks to marine biodiversity, marine ecosystems, human health or legitimate uses of the sea. The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund supports measures intended to promote the further development and implementation of the Union's Integrated Maritime Policy [Regulation 508/2014, last amended by Regulation 2015/895, see section 22.4].