Global law enforcement cracks down on marine pollution

Between 1 and 30 March 2021, 300 agencies across 67 countries joined forces against marine pollution during the third global operation 30 Days at Sea. Europol and Frontex coordinated the European leg of the operation, as part of the EMPACT action plan on environmental crime, while INTERPOL coordinated the global activities. 

The actions led to the identification of numerous crimes ranging from illegal discharge to waste trafficking and the investigation of thousands of suspects worldwide.   Frontline action followed five months of intelligence collection and analysis, enabling participating countries to identify hotspots and targets.

The simultaneous actions in March led to:

  • 34,000 inspections at sea and inland waterways, coastal areas and ports; 
  • 1,600 marine pollution offences detected in total;
  • 500 illegal acts of pollution committed at sea, including oil discharges, illegal shipbreaking and sulphur emissions from vessels;
  • 1,000 pollution offences in coastal areas and in rivers, including illegal discharges of contaminants;
  • 130 cases of waste trafficking through ports.

By using INTERPOL’s wide range of databases and analytical capabilities, countries were able to connect pollution crime with other serious crimes such as fraud, corruption, tax evasion, money laundering, piracy, and illegal fishing. 

Criminals exploits vulnerabilities exposed by pandemic

With many enforcement resources being reassigned to tackle the pandemic, criminals have been quick to exploit growing vulnerabilities in different crime areas including environmental crime. Inspections uncovered typical forms of marine pollution crime, from vessel discharges to waste trafficking by sea, but also criminal trends that have been growing amid the pandemic. 

Growing trends included COVID-19 disposable items such as masks and gloves, with 13 cases involving medical waste opened as a result of the operation. 

A major criminal network trafficking plastic waste between Europe and Asia was exposed, triggering cooperation between authorities from both regions. So far, 22 suspects have been arrested and thousands of tons of waste have been prevented from being illegally shipped to Asia. It is highly likely that the waste would have been dumped there, contaminating soils and generating considerable marine litter.

Several countries from Europe, Asia and Africa reported illegal shipments of contaminated or mixed metal waste falsely declared as metal scraps. In one case, the Italian Coast Guard seized and prevented 11 000 tons of metal scraps mixed with plastic, rubber, mineral oil and other contaminants from being loaded onto bulk carriers headed for Turkey. Namibia, the Philippines and Croatia also reported cases of illegal waste shipments from Europe.

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A team of dedicated journalists whose mission is to advocate for ethics and transparency in the maritime industry.

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