Civil liability for oil pollution damage: Bunkers Convention
Decision 2002/762/EC authorising EU countries to sign, ratify or accede to the Bunkers Convention
It authorises EU countries to sign, ratify or accede to the 2001 International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage (Bunkers Convention).
The Bunkers Convention was adopted under the auspices of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to ensure adequate, prompt and effective compensation for those who suffer damage caused by spills of oil carried as fuel in ships’ bunkers.
Compatibility with EU rules
Articles 9 and 10 of the Bunkers Convention affect the rules laid down in Council Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 (now Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012) on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters.
The convention does not stipulate an international organisation such as the EU to sign, ratify or accede to it.
EU countries, with the authorisation of the EU, must therefore sign, ratify or accede to the convention in the interest of the EU. When they do so, they must also make a declaration whereby they commit to applying Regulation (EC) No 1215/2012 in their mutual relations.
The convention applies to:
pollution damage caused in the territory, in the territorial sea and in the exclusive economic zone or equivalent in any country which is a party to the convention;
measures taken to prevent or minimise such damage.
It does not apply to warships, naval auxiliary or other ships owned by a country. However, any country which is a party to the convention may decide to apply it to such ships.
Liability of the shipowner
The shipowner at the time of an incident is liable for all pollution damage caused by its bunker oil. However, the shipowner will escape liability if they can prove that:
the damage resulted from an act of war, hostilities, insurrection or a natural phenomenon of an exceptional, inevitable and irresistible character; or
the damage resulted from an act or omission with the intent to cause damage by a third party; or
the damage was wholly caused by the negligence of any government or other authority responsible.
Compulsory insurance or financial security
Owners of ships with a gross tonnage greater than 1,000 tonnes and which are registered in a country which is a party to the convention must maintain insurance or other financial security, such as the guarantee of a bank or similar financial institution, to cover their liability for pollution damage.
A certificate attesting that insurance or other financial security is in force is issued to each ship by appropriate authority of a country and must be carried on board a ship. A copy must also be deposited with the authorities who keep the ship’s registration.
Jurisdiction and enforcement of judgments
Judicial action for compensation against the shipowner, insurer or other person providing security must be brought in the country or countries where the pollution damage was caused.
The convention defines the conditions under which a judgment given by a court in one country which is a party to the convention can be recognised or enforced in another.
Rights to compensation under this convention will lapse if no action is brought within 3 years from the date when the damage occurred.
No action can be brought more than 6 years from the date of the incident which caused the damage.
Application & Background
The Council decision called on EU countries to take the necessary steps to deposit their instruments of ratification or accession if possible before 30 June 2006.
As of 2015, all 28 EU countries had ratified/acceded to the convention in accordance with the Council decision.
Council Decision 2002/762/EC of 19 September 2002 authorising the Member States, in the interest of the Community, to sign, ratify or accede to the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage, 2001 (the Bunkers Convention) (OJ L 256, 25.9.2002, pp. 7-8)
Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 December 2012 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (OJ L 351, 20.12.2012, pp. 1-32)
Successive amendments to Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012 have been incorporated in the original text. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.
Maritime safety: accelerated phasing-in of double-hull oil tankers
To reduce the risk of accidental oil pollution in European waters, this law forbids the transport of heavy grades of oil to or from European Union (EU) ports in single-hull oil tankers. It also ensures an accelerated phasing-in scheme for the application of the double-hull or equivalent design requirements single-hull oil tankers no later than 2015.
Regulation (EU) No 530/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 June 2012 on the accelerated phasing-in of double-hull or equivalent design requirements for single-hull oil tankers.
The latest EU law on the phasing-in of double-hull oil tankers, adopted in 2012, retains the essence of its previous law of 2002. It merges all the amendments made to the previous law into one text to make it clearer and thus more user-friendly.
The law applies to oil tankers of 5 000 tonnes deadweight and above which fly the flag of an EU member country, or, irrespective of their flag, which enter or leave a port or offshore terminal or anchor in an area under the jurisdiction of an EU country.
It does not, however, apply to any warship, naval auxiliary or other ship, owned or operated by a State and used, for the time being, only on government non-commercial service.
prohibits the transport to or from EU ports of heavy grades of oil in single-hull oil tankers;
lays down an accelerated phasing-in scheme for the application of the double-hull or equivalent design requirements of the International Maritime Organization’s International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (also known as MARPOL) to single-hull oil tankers, with 2015 as the final deadline.
In 2002, following a series of accidents involving oil tankers which resulted in serious pollution, the EU adopted a law requiring the phase-out of the more vulnerable single-hull oil tankers (where oil in the cargo tanks is separated from the seawater only by a bottom and a side plate) and their replacement by double-hull vessels (where the cargo tanks are surrounded by a second internal plate at a sufficient distance from the external plate).
Entry into force
Deadline for transposition in the Member States
Regulation (EU) No 530/2012
OJ L 172 of 30.6.2012
Last updated: 19.06.2014
— dealing with pollution of the North Sea by oil and other harmful substances, including air pollution caused by shipping
Agreement for cooperation in dealing with pollution of the North Sea by oil and other harmful substances (Bonn Agreement)
Decision 84/358/EEC — conclusion of the Bonn Agreement
Decision (EU) 2021/176 — conclusion of the amendments to the Bonn Agreement with regard to the extension of its scope of application and on Spain’s accession to the agreement
The agreement sets up a system of cooperation among its contracting parties to deal with pollution of the North Sea by oil and other harmful substances.
Decision 84/358/EEC concludes the agreement on behalf of the European Economic Community (now the EU).
In 2019 contracting parties agreed to the accession of Spain and to extend the scope of the agreement to air pollution from ships as regulated under Annex VI to the International Maritime Organisation’s International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL Convention). Decision (EU) 2021/176 marks the conclusion by the EU concerning the extension of the agreement’s scope and Spain’s accession.
The contracting parties to the Bonn Agreement, as most recently amended in 2021, are the governments of Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union.
Sea areas covered by the agreement
The agreement concerns the greater North Sea and its wider approaches – one of the busiest sea areas in the world. Since Spain’s accession to the agreement, it covers:
the North Sea proper, southwards of latitude 61° 0’00.00″ N;
the Skagerrak, the southern limit of which is determined east of the Skaw by the latitude 57° 44’43.00″ N;
the Bay of Biscay, bounded on the south and west by the line defined in Part I of the annex to the agreement;
other waters, comprising the Irish Sea, the Celtic Sea, the Malin Sea, the Great Minch, the Little Minch, part of the Norwegian Sea, and parts of the north-east Atlantic, bounded on the west and north by the line defined in Part II of the annex to the agreement.
Scope of application
Building on an earlier agreement signed in 1969 which covered pollution from spills of crude oil, the 1984 Bonn Agreement also covered spills of other harmful substances polluting or threatening to pollute the sea in the North Sea area.
In 2019, the contracting parties decided to amend the agreement to cover cooperation on surveillance in respect of the requirements of Annex VI to the MARPOL Convention . Annex VI introduces stricter sulphur limits for marine fuel in sulphur oxide emission control areas (which includes the North Sea). Directive (EU) 2016/802 on reducing the sulphur content of certain liquid fuels incorporates the main changes in international law on preventing air pollution from ships into EU law (see summary).
Areas of work
The contracting parties agree:
to cooperate actively among themselves;
to jointly develop and set guidelines for the practical, operational and technical aspects of joint action;
to share information about
the national organisation which deals with the type of pollution covered by the agreement;
the competent authority responsible for receiving and dispatching reports of such pollution and for dealing with questions concerning measures of mutual assistance;
their national means for avoiding or dealing with such pollution, which they could make available for international assistance;
new ways in which such pollution may be avoided and about new effective measures to deal with it;
major pollution incidents of this kind which they have dealt with.
Reporting of incidents and mutual assistance
The contracting parties agree to notify each other of any casualty or of the presence of oil or other harmful substances present in the North Sea which are likely to constitute a serious threat to the coast or other related interest of any other contracting party. Together, they have developed a standard notification format for reporting pollution incidents.
A party facing a pollution incident may request assistance from the other parties. As a general rule, the requesting contracting party reimburses the parties that come to its assistance for costs of any action taken.
The contracting parties implement the agreement by:
keeping their zones of responsibility under surveillance for threats of marine pollution, including coordinating aerial and satellite surveillance;
alerting each other to any threats;
adopting common operational approaches so that they can rely on each other to achieve the necessary standards of prevention and clean-up;
supporting each other (when requested) in response operations;
sharing research and development;
carrying out joint exercises.
Budget and secretariat
Each contracting party contributes 2.5% towards the agreement’s annual expenditure and the balance of the expenditure is shared among contracting parties (other than the EU) in proportion to their gross national product.
The agreement’s secretariat is based in London.
Application & Background
The 1984 Bonn agreement entered into force on 28 June 1984.
For more information, see:
About the Bonn Agreement (Bonn Agreement website).
Agreement for cooperation in dealing with pollution of the North Sea by oil and other harmful substances (Bonn Agreement) (OJ L 188, 16.7.1984, pp. 9-16)
Council Decision 84/358/EEC of 28 June 1984 concerning the conclusion of the Agreement for cooperation in dealing with pollution of the North Sea by oil and other harmful substances (OJ L 188, 16.7.1984, pp. 7-8)
Council Decision (EU) 2021/176 of 5 February 2021 on the conclusion of the amendments to the Agreement for cooperation in dealing with pollution of the North Sea by oil and other harmful substances (Bonn Agreement) with regard to the extension of the scope of application of that Agreement and on the accession of the Kingdom of Spain to that Agreement (OJ L 54, 16.2.2021, pp. 1-2)
Directive (EU) 2016/802 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 May 2016 relating to a reduction in the sulphur content of certain liquid fuels (OJ L 132, 21.5.2016, pp. 58-78)
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