Maritime Safety


Following oil slicks that devastated European coasts in the past decade, the Commission is taking further action to improve maritime safety by preventing accidents and pollution and better controlling their effects. Its proposals also seek to enhance passenger and crew safety against the risks of accidents and terrorist attacks.

Horizontal Tabs



  • 25% of the world fleet flies under EU Member States’ flags and 40% is controlled by EU-owned companies; 
  • Almost 90% of EU external trade in goods and more than 40% of its internal trade is transported by sea; 
  • Some 1 billion tonnes of oil enter European Union ports or cross the waters surrounding its territory each year; 
  • Latest disasters in EU territory include the accidents of 25-year old single-hull oil carriers Erika (in 1999) and Prestige (in 2002). The tankers respectively leaked around 22.000 and 20.000 tonnes of oil into the sea, causing huge damage to the environment, fisheries and tourism. 
  • Over 45% of the European fleet is more than 20 years old.
  • 350 million passengers are transported on European ship journeys each year. 
  • Globally over 100 ships are lost each year accounting for over 3 000 lives. 

Policy Development: 

Despite the existence of a well developed framework of international standards for safety at sea and for the protection of the marine environment - most of them laid down in Conventions developed within the International Maritime Organisation  (IMO) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) - many flag States and shipowners continue to break the rules, thereby putting crews and the environment at risk and benefiting from unfair competition. 

The Commission adopted its first common policy on maritime safety in 1993, with the aim to ensure that all ships flying under the flag of an EU Member State or entering a European port comply with international safety standards. 

The Erika and Prestige accidents were real eye-openers on the risks related to maritime shipping and pushed the Commission to adopt a series of preventive measures, known as the Erika I and II packages, to reduce the risks of accidental pollution by ships. It also set up a European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) responsible for improving drafting and enforcement of EU rules on maritime safety. 

Despite the reduction in the number of maritime accidents, certain safety threats remain and the Commission adopted a third package of 7 legislative proposals on 23 November 2005 to supplement and improve existing rules. 

In addition to these preventive measures, the EU also adopted, in December 2006, legislation granting €154 million, between 2007-2013, to EMSA to help it to improve the Union’s response to sea-polluting incidents. The aim is to enable the Agency to provide anti-pollution vessels to states affected by pollution from oil or other hazardous and noxious substances and to develop a centralised satellite imagery service which will facilitate the early detection of polluting incidents and the identification of the ships responsible.