EU combat pollution by “oil fingerprinting”

The European Commission announced last week that it was to launch guidelines for port states on assessing the source of unidentified oil spills. The Guidelines, being developed by the Swedish Coastguard would base the assessment principles on oil fingerprinting techniques already expensively used by states in Europe and also in the US.

The announcement came last week when Jacques de Dieu of the European Commission announced that the Commission had been researching the methodology and that it would soon release the guidelines in order to harmonise the techniques being used across Europe and to encourage more states to adopt this approach. This is not a mandatory requirement but to be used as guidance for coastguards using fingerprinting techniques. States such as Sweden and Germany have been using oil fingerprinting as a method for identifying oil slicks. Even in the wake of the Prestige, Mr de Dieu explained that he recognised that whilst these larger incidents drew attention there was also a significant issue to be tackled by oil entering the environment from other sea based sources.

INTERTANKO’s Environmental Committee included the issue on its agenda at its meeting held on Monday of this week. In coordination with the issue of DNA tagging the Committee recognised that the fingerprinting method may accomplish the same objectives without the requirement of adding DNA to all fuel and cargo oils which could cause both administrative and operational problems. The Committee noted that the European initiative was in principle a positive step, especially in light of the number of non-tanker discharges, but felt that it must be implemented in coordination with the reception facilities Directive to eradicate the problem entirely.

Oil tagging systems are also on the agenda of the next Bulk Liquids and Gases sub-Committee (BLG) meeting of the IMO in late March although no formal submissions have been made regarding this agenda item.

Contact Tim Wilkins