France more and more exposed to risks of marine pollution ?
Friday October 8, the chemical tanker YM Uranus transporting 6,000 tons of solvent struck a bulk carrier off the coast of Brest. This accident is a perfect example of the new risks threatening our waters and coastlines: maritime traffic multiplying in size and volume; evolution of pollutant products; insufficient prevention and rescue measures deployed solely from the coast: all indicators point to growing environmental insecurity for France concerning marine pollution.
International maritime traffic has increased by 40% over the past ten years, and the transport of pollutants or dangerous products (oil, chemical products) has also gone up by 40% during the same period. The French coasts are not spared from this trend; today, one ship carrying dangerous or pollutant cargo cruises by the island of Ushant every half hour, or 17,000 ships per year. The trend remains high, with the “ocean freeway” project, aimed at rerouting a large part of European road freight transport via ocean waterways.
Statistically, this increase in volume generates higher risks of marine pollution from collisions, ship damage or grounding. In addition, the race to construct the most colossal ships also leads to an increase in the quantities of pollutants transported, making each incident or accident at sea even more dangerous. The evolving nature of these pollutants also poses new risks to our coasts. Back in the mid-1980’s, the nature of French marine pollution in the zone of the English Channel and North Sea radically changed. Sophie Bahé, project manager for Vigipol, states in her thesis that « while hydrocarbon pollution may be diminishing, chemical pollution and those pollutions classified as « Other » are on the rise. The exponential growth in the transport of « other » substances (chemical products, bulk, containers, etc.) is leading to the appearance of new types of pollution ». These are the famous HNS – hazardous and noxious substances – or harmful and potentially dangerous substances, like nitrates, solvents, oils, acids, etc.
Faced with these new risks, France is continually searching for ways to raise the quality and relevance of its action plan to combat marine pollution, the POLMAR plan. But is this plan truly adapted to the new scale of the number and size of ships, and the nature of the pollutants they transport? Not really, if we believe Sophie Bahé who notes that: « long-considered as only reactive, this plan would better serve if it were more proactive » and who also claims that the appearance of these new types of pollution has not been « as of today, truly backed by suitable transport security measures ».
On-board passive security provides ships with more active means in case of accidents at sea. Its development should be supported by those French organizations involved in sea rescue. Today, considered solely from a coastal deployment point of view, the rescue of ships in distress and notably environmental damage intervention following sea accidents, would become faster and more efficient if the ships themselves could mitigate damage by limiting the amount of pollutants discharged into the ocean. In this regard, new on-board passive safety solutions appear more and more essential for optimizing environmental security of maritime transport.
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