IMO puts marine protection above industry interests

Press release - 2 April, 2004
Greenpeace today welcomed the United Nations' International Maritime Organisation (IMO) decision to designate the Baltic sea as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area, as proposed by all the countries bordering the Baltic Sea with the exception of the Russian Federation. (1)

The decision opens the way for a stringent environmental control of international shipping in the Baltic, and Greenpeace announced the launch of a campaign to secure that additional protection measures are adopted by the IMO no later than in 2005.

The decision was adopted at this week's meeting of the Marine Environment Protection Committee of the IMO in London. The Baltic Sea protection status was adopted despite stiff opposition by the Russian Federation who formed an alliance with Liberia and Panama, the two largest flags of convenience states. (2)

"As a citizen of a country bordering the Baltic, I find it encouraging to see the vast majority of Baltic States working together to protect our sea, but I am deeply concerned to see Russia opposing environmental protection," said Sari Tolvanen of Greenpeace.  "Unless everyone around the Baltic pays attention, the Russian oil industry is going to jeopardize our future," she warned.

Tolvanen said that the United Nations agency decision was motivated by the anticipated massive increase in shipping due to Russia's plans to further expand the export of oil through the Baltic Sea passage. Whilst she welcomed the precautionary approach of the rest of the Baltic states, Tolvanen said that  much work remains  before the Baltic is truly protected. "The PSSA designation is just a first step. It created a framework for putting into place concrete regulatory steps to decrease the threat from shipping.  The countries now have a big job to do, making sure that the framework is filled by a full set of appropriate specific measures."(3)

In addition to designating the Baltic Sea as a PSSA, the Galapagos and the Canary Islands received the same distinction.  However, Russia presented a reservation, which in IMO procedures makes Russian flagged vessels exempt from any PSSA measure.

Notes: 1. The IMO is the UN agency, headquartered in London, that regulates shipping worldwide.2. The Russian delegation produced jointly with Liberia and Panama a written official submission in which the three countries vehemently opposed the designation of the Baltic as a protected area, and attempted to put a freeze on all future designations of protected status to sensitive marine environments.3.  The PSSA guidelines provide for creation of associated protective measures that may include any measure that falls within the competence of IMO.  The measures that will address the problem of shipping in the Baltic can include more stringent navigation rules, areas to be avoided, mandatory pilotage, demands for shipping construction, quality of crew training and financial liability.