Pollution, problem and prospects in the Med

Genoa - Nowadays the Mediterranean Sea represents an ecosystem deeply threatened by an increasing pollution. Up to 80% of such pollution is caused by land-based activities, with industrial activities from the chemical, petrochemical and metallurgy sectors

di Stefano Pampuro

Genoa - Nowadays the Mediterranean Sea represents an ecosystem deeply threatened by an increasing pollution. Up to 80% of such pollution is caused by land-based activities, with industrial activities from the chemical, petrochemical and metallurgy sectors. The rest comes from the dumping of oil and other wasters from ships. Being the Mediterranean sea a semi-enclosed sea with two main exits, its situation is very frail: the Gibraltar Strait, approximately 14 km wide, and the Suez Canal, only a few meters wide, and it has the largest traffic density of oil tankers of the globe, with 28% of the world’s sea-borne oil traffic transiting in its waters.

Along the 46.000 km of this coast there are 584 cities, 750 touristic ports, 286 commercial ports, 13 refineries and 180 thermal power stations, with 9 oil platform and 68 oil wells. Every day 9 million of oil barrels carried by 1500 huge tankers and 2000 ferries cross the Mediterranean Sea, and this represents a serious threat for the Mediterranean’s biosphere. In 2012, UNEP ( United Nation Environment Program) issued a list of the 31“protected areas of Mediterranean importance” (ASPIM) but there are other several tens of marine natural parks. In 1975, only three years after UNEP’s constitution, 16 Mediterranean countries and the European Community adopted the Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP) whose main objective was to assist the Mediterranean countries in order to assess and control marine pollution, optimizing the choices for allocating resources.


In 1976 they adopted the Barcelona Convention, one of the most important trades in the fight against pollution, developed in seven protocols. However, the most important international marine environmental conventions is Marpol 73/78, which regulates and preserves the marine environment through the complete elimination of pollution by oil and the minimization of accidental discharge of such substances. In the last four years MEPC, the Marine Environmental Protection Committee for Imo, uploaded eight times the Convention to adapt itself at the new modern evolutions. The situation might be seen positively according the last annual report of “Transport & Environment” which declares that: “Air pollution emissions from ships are continuously growing, while land-based emissions are gradually coming down. Technical measures to cut air pollution from ships by 80 to 90% are easily implementable. The benefits would considerably outweigh the costs involved. These include the adoption of cleaner fuels, adding ‘scrubbers’ and a wider use of alternative sources of energy, including wind power and port-side electricity”.

At present, one of the most efficient instruments for pollution prevention is represented by Port State Control. This method has allowed 24.646 vessel inspections (including the Paris Mou) and 1.253 detentions in 2013. These 1253 ships could have generated some cases of pollution.

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