The Mediterranean Sea is among the world's busiest waterways accounting for 15% of global shipping activity by number of calls, and 10% by vessel deadweight tonnes (DWT). In 2006, 13,000 merchant ships made 252,000 ports calls to Mediterranean ports totalling 3.8bn DWT. Around 80% of Mediterranean ports are located in the west and central Mediterranean region.

Overall vessel activity within the Mediterranean has been rising steadily over the past 10 years and is projected to increase by a further 18% over the next 10 years. Transits through the Mediterranean are expected to increase by 23%. Littoral states with coastlines bordering the Mediterranean account for around 19% (1.4 billion tonnes) of world seaborne trade by volume, which in 2006 amounted to 7.5 billion tonnes.

Crude oil traffic

Trade carried in tankers represents the largest portion of the trade of the littoral states in the Mediterranean, and dominates the intra-Mediterranean trade. Tanker trades represent just under 60% of all seaborne trade between the littoral Mediterranean states.

In 2006, 4224 laden oil tanker movements carrying 421 million tonnes of crude oil were observed in the Mediterranean. 457 of these were transits involving tankers, carrying 72 million tonnes of crude oil en route between non-Mediterranean ports.

The Mediterranean is both a major load and discharge centre for crude oil. Approximately 18% of global seaborne crude oil shipments take place within, or pass through the Mediterranean. North African ports in Libya, Algeria and Tunisia, and the Persian Gulf oil shipped via Egypt account for over 90% of all crude oil loaded in the Mediterranean. Italy accounts for nearly half of all crude oil discharged in the Mediterranean. The crude oil trade is concentrated around a relatively small population of load and discharge ports and routes in the western and central Mediterranean. Crude oil shipments from Novorossiysk to Mediterranean destinations, from Sidi Kerir to both Mediterranean destinations and ports west of Gibraltar, as well as exports from the Persian Gulf through the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal, dominate the major traffic lanes.

Container throughput

Container handling at the top 20 Mediterranean ports has increased by over 50% in the last five years. By 2015, Ocean Shipping Consultants anticipate that container handling demand in the Mediterranean and Black Sea could reach up to 83 million TEUs a year; an increase of 140% on the 2005 level. Port capacity is expected to expand to meet this demand.

Risks for biodiversity

Risks derived from maritime traffic on marine biodiversity include the following:

Noise pollution from ship movement
Discarded ships
Ship groundings
Toxic anti-fouling paints
Collision with marine mammals
Oil spills and flushing
Vessel carbon emissions
Engine emissions from vessels
Effects of sewage, solid waste and garbage discharge
Ingestion of plastic bags and others by marine vertebrates
Species introduction via marine vessel disturbances
Port and harbour construction works

Legal mechanisms to address maritime impacts on Mediterranean biodiversity

The challenge facing international law and policy makers is to devise a framework of governance that can accommodate the navigational interests of shipping with the protection of marine biodiversity.

The first step in devising a framework of governance is to assess whether the existing international legal framework for shipping provides the requisite legal foundations for protecting marine biodiversity. The 1982 Law of the Sea Convention established a clear international obligation for states, including flag states, to protect the marine environment. In relation to shipping, this obligation has been complemented and strengthened by the complex regime of IMO Conventions, as well as regional conventions. The main problem is obtaining effective compliance and enforcement of these instruments.

The legal framework alone will not suffice to promote the protection of marine biodiversity without implementing measures. The IMO-created Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) is such a measure created specifically for the protection of the marine environment from shipping activities. The projected increase in shipping in the Mediterranean Sea over the next decade reinforces the need for certain areas of the Mediterranean Sea to be designated as PSSAs.

At regional level, the European Union (EU) is increasingly taking on an active role in influencing the legal and policy direction for the protection of the marine environment and international shipping. In 2006, the European Commission adopted the Green Paper for a Future Maritime Policy of the European Union. The essence of the Green Paper is to initiate an EU governance framework based on a holistic and integrated approach, including marine spatial planning, for the protection of the marine biodiversity from activities which are having an impact, including shipping.