Contributing to all EU policy areas related to the sea

EM3 20 Maja Markovcic KostelacEMSA strengthens Europe’s competitiveness, sustainable growth, and the blue economy

This article was featured in EUROFISH Magazine 3 2020.

The European Maritime Safety Agency is the body responsible for maritime safety and the prevention of pollution by ships in European Union waters. To achieve its goals, and to maximise synergies, the agency cooperates with a variety of European and international organisations. The Agency recently released its five-year strategy for 2020-2024, the implementation of which will fall to Maja Markovcic Kostelac, the head of the Agency since January 2019 and former State Secretary for Croatia’s Ministry of the Sea, Transport and Infrastructure, who describes here some of her priorities and visions for the organisation.

The agency was initially established to ensure a high level of maritime safety and prevent pollution by ships in the EC. Today, 18 years later, it is involved in all EU policy areas related to the sea which reflects a huge expansion in its area of operations. How can an overlap of responsibilities between the agency and other EU and international marine-related bodies be prevented to ensure an efficient implementation of policy?

EMSA has sailed now for nearly two decades into the EU maritime landscape helping the EU legislator and institutions to implement efficiently EU maritime policies. Similarly, we have become a solid partner and provider of services for many national authorities around the EU and beyond. The division of labour between EU bodies is reflected in our founding regulation which defines what EMSA is responsible for.

On the contrary I see more and more synergies being created by working together with peer EU agencies: we cooperate now for several years with EFCA (European Fisheries Control Agency) and FX (Frontex, European Border and Coast Guard Agency) on the so-called EU Coastguard cooperation and we share information with EUNAVFOR (EU Naval Force) and Europol. On the international side, besides an intense dialogue with the main players (e.g. IMO, the International Maritime Organization), the role of EMSA has been that of “exporter of EU solutions” promoting the EU’s high standards worldwide.

The European Maritime Safety Agency, as the name suggests, has a core role to play in the safety of European shipping. In the five-year (2020-2024) strategic framework drawn up by EMSA, safety comes second in a list of five priorities. Is this critical function of the agency being diluted due to the focus on other priorities?

Not at all. Safety is one of the most important topics at EMSA, as it has always been. On a daily basis, the Agency’s maritime experts study and give advice on technical proposals being discussed at IMO, giving support to Member States and the Commission. On a continuous basis accident report are being collected and analysed.

New safety concerns are being addressed — with studies, analysis and advice — like fire on board ro-ro (roll-on roll-off) passengers ships, safety concerns for large passenger vessels, safety issues with large container vessels, issues with the manoeuvrability of ships and the development of unmanned vessels. We are always working on safety issues, which is no doubt a core task. I can reassure you and your readers, EMSA continues to be THE maritime safety agency!

Among the recommendations made by the independent evaluator in the 2017 assessment of the agency was one to increase awareness of EMSA among its stakeholders. What efforts have been made in this regard and would you say the agency has a higher profile today than it did three years ago?

In 2017 EMSA revisited its mapping of stakeholders and targeted communication products for each category depending on the level of engagement and the specific needs. Over the last three years we also differentiated much more our communication channels and related products. We organise open days and participate in major maritime related events. It will not come as a surprise if I mention that our main increase was related to social media. Journalists are often in contact with us to understand the EMSA point of view on the most discussed topics in the maritime arena. Since I joined EMSA in 2019 I have personally taken care of raising the visibility and profile of the Agency in the EU and beyond. In the past 12 months we have been visited by an increasing number of EU commissioners, national ministers and even the presidents of the republics of Croatia and Portugal (our host nation) paid a visit to our beautiful premises.

Decarbonising maritime transport is one of the paths to achieving the European goal of a circular, clean, resilient, and future-ready economy. How can the agency contribute to the greater use of cleaner fuels or renewable energy on board vessels? What are the instruments it has at its disposal to encourage these changes?

For several years now EMSA has been collecting data and providing studies on cleaner fuels or alternative sources of power for shipping. Moreover, we work very closely with the European Commission, the Member States, and the industry in relevant fora, such as the European Sustainable Shipping Forum (ESSF) and the IMO where the uptake of alternative fuels is under discussion. We act as facilitator: we offer a platform for technical discussions with experts, and we support the Member States through guidance, training, and tools. For instance, our guidance on LNG bunkering to port authorities and administrations is considered a reference point by relevant stakeholders. Another concrete example of our contribution to decarbonisation is the THETIS-MRV (monitoring, reporting, verification) system, developed by EMSA in support of the EU MRV Regulation. Thanks to this tool the EU has now accurate information on the level of emissions from shipping. As EMSA we aim at facilitating discussions based on facts and at providing accurate analysis that can support new legislative initiatives, like the one that the European Commission has recently launched on this topic – the ReFuelEU Maritime Initiative (reducing emissions through the use of biofuels and electro-fuels).

New technologies such as the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and blockchain offer many exciting opportunities in the collection, analysis, and securing of data. How is the agency using these tools to improve the services it offers EU Member States?

The use of new technologies and digital services remains a core priority for the Agency. A project of high priority for EMSA is support to the Commission and the Member States for the development of the new European Maritime Single Window environment and the exchange of relevant data through the Agency’s maritime information exchange platform SafeSeaNet. The Agency investigates how distributed technologies such as blockchain can be used to ensure the integrity of such data exchanges. The analysis of data is also high on the Agency’s agenda. As an example, EMSA has been developing its Automated Behaviour Monitoring service which analyses ships positions to detect specific behaviours. The service is being deployed to the cloud to allow the analysis of large amounts of data on ships positions as well as other data using artificial intelligence to detect new behaviour patterns. Regarding the Internet of Things (IoT) there is a potential to develop a framework for an IoT-based container tracking system but the discussions on the policy and international cooperation framework have not been concluded. EMSA will offer this service once the policy decisions are made and the Agency gets a mandate.

Marine litter is a vast and growing problem that stems both from land and from vessels at sea. What sort of initiatives does the agency take to clean up existing litter and to encourage better behaviour among vessel crews? Does the agency have the requisite powers to sanction erring vessels or their flag states?

Marine litter is indeed a global environmental concern. If we look only at plastic, some estimates show that up to 20% of litter entering our oceans may come from seabased activities. We need however to highlight that there are still large gaps in knowledge and in mapping marine litter around European shores. Whilst EMSA does not engage in actual cleaning of marine litter, as a technical body, EMSA assists the European Commission in addressing this issue at the international level, i.e. the IMO in order to amend the relevant annex of MARPOL (the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships). At European level, the new Port Reception Facilities Directive, to be implemented by Member States in 2021 provides a framework to better collect waste from ships and ship-based activities. As you might be aware, EMSA does not have the power to sanction vessels or their flag states, however we support both the Commission and its Member States in implementing relevant EU legislation and ensure harmonised enforcement.

Mediterranean and Black Sea riparian states include several that are not members of the EU nor even part of Europe. How does EMSA foster a good working relationship with the shipping sector and shipping authorities in these countries which are often at a different stage of development than EU countries?

As maritime safety, maritime security and protection of the marine environment is a common concern of the EU Member States and non-EU countries bordering the Black and Mediterranean Seas, EMSA is actively involved in both regions through the EU-funded BCSEA and SAFEMED IV projects, and offers technical assistance to beneficiary countries with the aim to raise the safety, security and protection of marine environment standards. This is a core task of EMSA and as such is included in its recently adopted 5-year strategy. The projects include training activities (regional and national), activities for building up national capacity (such as drafting legislation and studies) and provision of maritime services and applications (like satellite images for pollution monitoring, RuleCheck, SAT-AIS, eLearning). In addition, EMSA developed a state of the art information system, THETISMed, to support the members of the Mediterranean Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control (Med MoU), which marked the beginning of a new era on how ships are targeted for inspection, thus fostering harmonisation of standard and procedures in the Mediterranean region.