The Strait of Bonifacio: a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA)

25 October 2012 | Article



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The Strait of Bonifacio, a strait of real ecological interest, characterized by a severe level of fragility for its fauna and flora and hosting 37% of the Mediterranean's most remarkable species, suffers the consequences of heavy maritime traffic, 10% of which consists of transportation of dangerous materials.

Despite measures taken on a shared basis by the two bordering States, ie. France and Italy, and particularly that of making a certain number of rules applying to vessels flying their flags obligatory (rules going as far as prohibited passage for such vessels), the risk of a major ecological catastrophe remains very high. But the Strait of Bonifacio is an international strait as defined by the IUCN [1], and bordering States must guarantee that "all ships and aircraft enjoy the right of transit passage, which shall not be impeded" [2].

In order to take these rules into account and ensure that the Strait of Bonifacio is protected in accordance with international law, France and Italy applied to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) [3] for classification of the Strait of Bonifacio as a PSSA [4] in 2010. This request to the IMO was justified by the fact that, as control could result in the restriction of navigation, it was necessary to obtain a ruling from this international organization.

The IMO has a specific procedure for the creation of a PSSA : the request is submitted for consideration by its Maritime Safety Committee and Marine Environment Protection Committee. Following a year's investigation, the IMO adopted a resolution in July, 2011, classifying the Strait of Bonifacio as a PSSA, a measure which will only become final and enter into force when the two bordering States have informed the IMO of the associated measures, in particuliar that of piloting, which will be recommended but not mandatory. The inital position of the two States included a demand for obligatory piloting, which was contested by numerous States. This new regime should become effective in 2012.

"The PSSA of the Strait of Bonifacio is the first of its kind in the Mediterranean", according to the press release issued by the French Minister for Ecology and Sustainable Development (25/8/2011).

[1] UNCLOS, article 37.

[2] UNCLOS, article 38.


[4] PSSA, Particularly Sensitive Sea Area

>>Légendes :

PSSA of the Strait of Bonifacio. Photo: IMO 204(62)

Traffic organization measures adopted by the IMO in the PSSA of the Strait of Bonifacio. In conformity with international law, the PSSA strengthens national conservation measures introduced by Italy, France and their relevant territorial collectivities.
Photo: IMO 204(62)

National conservation measures deployed in the International Marine Park also benefit from international recognition from bodies such as Natura 2000 (1987), Important Bird Areas (IBA) (1991), SPAMI (Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance) (2009), RAMSAR Sites (2007). The perimeter within which they apply also largely corresponds to that of the Pelagos sanctuary for marine mammals in the Mediterranean.

In the law of the sea, the PSSA thus participates towards the protection of a site whose conservation mobilizes various kinds of legal instruments.

Mediterranean landscape