One of the “charges” frequently levelled at IMO is that it creates rules but has no immediate means of enforcing them. IMO must rely on flag states and port state control, which act with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
That might be about to change. Interpol, the world’s largest international police organisation with 194-member countries, has just carried out its first investigation into marine pollution crime.
Codenamed 30 Days at Sea, the month-long (1-31 October) operation saw 276 law enforcement and environmental agencies across 58 countries detect more than 500 offences, including illegal discharges of oil and garbage from vessels, shipbreaking, breaches of ship emissions regulations, and pollution on rivers and land-based runoff to the sea.
Steered by a global network of 122 national co-ordinators, 30 Days at Sea involved environmental, maritime and border agencies, national police forces, customs and port authorities.
The operation produced more than 5,200 inspections which resulted in at least 185 investigations, with arrests and prosecutions anticipated.
“Criminals believe marine pollution is a low-risk crime with no real victims. This is a mistake and one which Interpol and our partners are addressing as demonstrated by this operation,” said Interpol secretary general Jürgen Stock.
“Marine pollution creates health hazards worldwide which undermine sustainable development and requires a multi-agency, multi-sector co-operative response within a solid global security architecture,” added the Interpol chief.
Cases of serious contamination included dumped animal farm waste in Philippine coastal waters where local communities collect shellfish and children play.
In Germany, a vessel discharged 600 litres of palm oil into the sea. Ghana uncovered gallons of waste oil in large bottles thought to be illegally dumped at sea.
Authorities prevented an environmental disaster in Albania by securing waters around a sinking vessel containing some 500 litres of oil. Similarly, the pollution threat resulting from the collision of two ships in French waters was contained thanks to preventive action during the operation.
Innovative technologies permitted authorities to detect offences, including using satellite images (in Argentina and Sweden), aerial surveillance (Canada and Italy), drones (Nigeria, Indonesia and Pakistan) and night vision cameras.
In a shift towards prevention, visible surveillance technologies used in Qatar and Norway resulted in stricter compliance with regulations.
Former UN Environment executive director Erik Solheim said the issue of illegal marine pollution is one that global communities may well be able to tackle successfully in the next decade.
“But we need the help of our law enforcement partners to make sure that there is no impunity for the perpetrators of marine pollution crime,” added Mr Solheim.
"This is why law enforcement must team up on a global scale to build strong international links with specialised experts, so we can tackle this devastating crime while ensuring a healthier, safer planet for all." responded Europol Operations Directorate deputy executive director Wil van Gemert.
Interpol’s Pollution Crime Working Group launched Operation 30 Days at Sea in response to a call to boost international law enforcement action against emerging environmental crime through action in the field.
Co-ordinated by Interpol’s Environmental Security Programme in close partnership with Europol, 30 Days at Sea was driven by a range of co-operative enforcement actions, including:
30 Days at Sea is followed by an awareness campaign in partnership with UN Environment to illustrate the impact marine pollution has on economic development and human and environmental security.
Follow Interpol’s marine pollution operations at #PollutionCrime and #CleanSeas on Twitter.