International laws prohibit dumping of waste and other hazardous materials at sea. There are also laws that regulate oil spillages from ships and other vessels. They are listed in the Law Search page.
The Environmental Liability Directive 2004/35/EC deals with serious environmental incidents. It requires people and businesses that cause damage to prevent and remediate the harm. It applies to marine pollution incidents like oil spills if they damage protected habitats or species, or coastal water.
There are also lots of European laws to control and prevent pollution of rivers, lakes, ground waters, estuaries and coastal areas. These laws tackle some important sources of marine pollution, such as sewage. They are described in the Water Quality Standards page.
A range of national laws implement the international and European laws on pollution. They require authorities to set and achieve certain water quality standards, and control particular activities like sewage treatment.
In some cases a person who pollutes the sea may be prosecuted for a criminal offence, or required to take steps to deal with the pollution.
Polluting the sea can count as a criminal offence if:
- The pollution is due an activity that normally requires a marine licence (more information on the marine licensing page). If the person responsible does not have a licence or breaches their licence conditions they may have committed an offence under section 85 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.
- The pollution affects the sea out to 12 nautical miles, and is due to an activity that normally requires an environmental permit. This covers a whole range of activities, including pollution of the land or rivers that affects the sea. If the person responsible does not have a license or breaches their licence conditions they may have committed an offence under regulation 38(1)(a) of the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010.
Dealing with serious pollution
National laws implementing the Environmental Liability Directive require people or business responsible for serious pollution (known as ‘environmental damage’) to prevent or limit the harm, and clean up the pollution. They apply to marine pollution incidents like oil spills if they pollute coastal waters or damage protected habitats or species in inshore and offshore waters. The laws are listed on the Law Search page.