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Following an invitation issued by Federal Minister Andreas Scheuer, the contracting parties to the Bonn Agreement met in Bonn today to celebrate 50 years of successful cooperation in combating the pollution of the North Sea by oil and other harmful substances. Within the Framework of the Bonn Agreement, the ministers renewed and extended their commitment to the protection of the North Sea and the adjacent areas.

Andreas Scheuer, Federal Minister of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, said:

50 years after the constitution of the Bonn Agreement it has been an honour for me to welcome its members again to Bonn. We have been able to reach two important decisions: the extension in scope by including air pollution from ships and the geographical extension by the accession of Spain. Two decisions pointing the way for even better protection of the seas.

Susana Salvador, Secretary of the Bonn Agreement, said:

Even after 50 years of effective and result-orientated work, the Bonn Agreement continues to provide guidance and inspiration, showing how effective working together can be in responding to marine pollution incidents.

The contracting parties welcomed the accession of Spain to the Bonn Agreement and the realignment of the Zone of Responsibility between Spain and France to include the Bay of Biscay with the aim of covering the main traffic route between the North Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. The scope of action of the Bonn Agreement was also extended at the meeting to prevent unlawful aerial emissions from shipping. The ministers welcomed a range of new major commitments to address new trends in maritime transport and other maritime activities such as offshore oil and gas exploitation. They emphasized that despite the observed reduction in the number of oil spills over the past years, the risks would continue to exist.

What is the Bonn Agreement?

The Bonn Agreement is a tool for cooperation among the countries bordering the North Sea and the European Union (the contracting parties). It is aimed at facilitating mutual support in responding to pollution in the North Sea area caused by ship accidents or continuous pollution caused by shipping traffic and off-shore installations as well as at allowing them to carry out surveillance activities for the detection of and response to the pollution of the marine environment. It is the oldest regional agreement on response to pollution incidents signed by governments.

The countries bordering the North Sea are Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. On 11 October 2019, Spain became the 11th contracting party to the Bonn Agreement.

The Bonn Agreement was signed by the eight countries bordering the North Sea in 1969: Belgium, Denmark, Germany, France, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. This happened shortly after the oil tanker “Torrey Canyon” shipwrecked off the coast of Cornwall in 1967. With 117,000 tonnes of oil spilled, this accident led to the first major pollution disaster affecting Western Europe. Nevertheless, the Bonn Agreement was only activated in the late 1970s, after another two severe pollution incidents - the “Ekofisk” in 1977 and the “Amoco Cadiz” in 1978. Since then, the Agreement has been functioning effectively and has been extended twice - in 1983 by including other harmful substances and in 1987 by including surveillance. In 1983, the European Union became a contracting party. In 2010 it was extended again by the accession of Ireland to the Agreement, thus expanding the scope of action to Irish bodies of water as well the adjacent Norwegian waters and the stretches of water of the United Kingdom.

The guiding concept of the Bonn Agreement is to minimize as much as possible the threat of pollution caused by accidental or illegal pollution through ships or other maritime activities.

In essence, the work of the Bonn Agreement consists of cooperating regionally in preventing and responding to marine pollution caused by ships and off-shore installations in the North Sea and its adjacent areas, carrying out surveillance activities for the detection and combating of marine pollution as well as taking measures to clean up after ship-source catastrophes and illegal pollution incidents. These are the achievements of 50 years of scientific, technical and operational work within the framework of the Bonn Agreement.

The North Sea and the adjacent areas are home to diverse and productive ecosystems and of essential significance to millions of people in their daily lives. Some of the busiest shipping routes of the world cross this region. Despite the general reduction in the number of accidental pollution incidents in European waters, major oil spills still happen at irregular intervals. Although the largest part of oil entering our seas can be traced back to offshore discharges, oil accidents at sea are still an important source of pollution and responsible for 10 to 15 percent of the entire oil volume entering the seas.

For more information on the Bonn Agreement please visit www.bonnagreement.org