Russia puts oil interests ahead of maritime protection
Gland, Switzerland – WWF is warning that a Russian-led proposal to block plans to protect sensitive seas areas such as the Baltic Sea, the Galapagos Islands, and the Canary Islands could have disastrous environmental consequences, if adopted at next week's International Maritime Organization (IMO) meeting in London, UK.
WWF believes the proposal is driven by Russia's blatant disregard for the environment and its desire to cheaply transport its oil, whose production is booming, through the Baltic Sea and Western European waters.
Russia has enlisted the support of Panama and Liberia in its efforts to block the proposed designation of the Baltic Sea, and two other areas — the Galapagos, and the Canary Islands — as Particularly Sensitive Seas Areas (PSSAs).
Designating PSSAs requires ships to take special care when navigating through such areas, and allows the IMO to choose the best protective measures.
WWF stresses that if adopted, the Russian proposal would be a significant blow to efforts to protect vulnerable marine areas from major oil spills — such as the 2002 Prestige catastrophe off the coast of Spain, which killed 300,000 sea birds and cost €5 billion in clean up and environmental damage.
Every day, hundreds of oil tankers — many in a similar condition to the Prestige — travel along shipping routes linking Russia and other Baltic states to countries further south.
About 15 per cent of the world's commercial shipping traffic transits through the Baltic Sea.
"As Russia continues its dramatic expansion of oil transportation in the Baltic, the need for special protection measures in one of the planet’s smallest and most vulnerable seas, where there is imminent risk of a devastating oil accident, becomes increasingly pressing," said Dr Simon Cripps, Director of WWF's Endangered Seas Programme. "These measures include designating areas to be avoided, establishing strictly separated shipping traffic lanes, and setting up compulsory pilotage systems, such as guiding by local pilots."
According to WWF, the three proposed PSSAs are highly diverse and important marine environments.
The Galapagos Islands are home to 5,000 species, around 40 per cent of which are unique to the islands. They include for example the Galapagos penguin and the flightless cormorant.
Large numbers of harbour porpoises, seals, and seabirds have been recorded in the Baltic Sea and pilot whales can be found in the waters around the Canary Islands.
Oil spills are recurrent problems in both areas, and the Galapagos Islands were badly hit three years ago by an oil spill from the tanker Jessica.
The three proposed PSSAs also include prime coastal breeding grounds for fish and shellfish of huge economic value for fishing communities.
"We cannot afford to delay initiatives contributing to the sustainable co-existence of shipping and the unique wildlife of some of the world's most sensitive sea areas," said Dr Simon Walmsley, Head of WWF's delegation at next week's IMO meeting. "The world would not forgive accidents like the Prestige happening again due to selfish business interests and the inaction of maritime authorities."
1. There are currently six PSSAs in the world. They are the Great Barrier Reef (Australia), the Sabana-Camaguey Archipelago (Cuba), the Malpelo Island (Columbia), the Florida Keys (US), the Wadden Sea (Germany and The Netherlands), and the Paracas National Reserve (Peru). Two additional PSSAs have received preliminary approval and are awaiting final confirmation pending IMO's approval of new protective measures proposed for the areas. They are the Western European waters (the UK, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Ireland) and the Torres Strait (between Australia and Papua New Guinea).
2. The IMO meeting takes place from 29 March to 2 April in London.
For further information:
Head of WWF's delegation at the IMO meeting
Tel: +44 1483 412 516; mobile: +44 7771 95 40 45
WWF Endangered Seas Programme
Tel: +41 22 364 9028
Olivier van Bogaert
WWF International Press Office
Tel: +41 22 364 9554