Leveling the Playing Field for a Cleaner Mediterranean


Boats on the Mediterranean near Kaş, Turkey. Photo: Jennifer Hattam.

Onlookers gazing out over the Bosphorus last week might have been shocked to see a tanker ship and a passenger ferry collide on the busy strait, sending rescue personnel scrambling to fish people out of the water, extinguish a fire on the tanker, and stop oil from spreading into the sea. The "accident," however, was actually an emergency drill -- and a sign, an international monitoring group says, of how Turkey is doing its part to protect the Mediterranean Sea."Turkey has made progress in recent years in setting up an emergency management system [for its] very busy traffic lane between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean," Frédéric Hébert, the director of the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC), told TreeHugger in a recent telephone interview.

Improving Maritime Safety And Pollution Prevention
"Turkey's long-standing policies are starting to bear fruit. Previously some ships that were on the 'black list' are now on the white list. There's a clear policy and political will to improve the standards," Hébert said.

Administered by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), REMPEC works with the diverse countries ringing the Mediterranean to implement and enforce maritime conventions. Through the EU-funded SafeMed II Project, it is also working to help non-EU-member states in the region -- Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey -- improve their maritime-safety and pollution-prevention practices.

Creating An Equal Level Of Protection Across The Mediterranean
SafeMed was initiated out of a desire to create a free-trade exchange area in the Mediterranean, something that requires a "fairly equal playing field," according to Hébert. Through training programs, technical exchanges, scholarships, and other assistance, REMPEC and SafeMed are working to bring all the countries whose maritime and land-based pollutants affect the same sea up to the same level of protection.

One of these steps is a voluntary audit from the IMO, which Turkey and Israel both recently agreed to do, "a big step that shows confidence and will," according to Hébert:

You agree to open your books, review what you have done so far, how you have implemented the treaties. You have to go through a very hard preparatory phase that forces you to ask why you're doing what you're doing, what are your strengths and weaknesses, and what your vision is for the future.

Voluntary Audits For Turkey and Israel
Participating countries audit each other, a potentially contentious process given the current tensions between Turkey and both Greece and Israel, for example. But Hébert says such conflicts have not interfered with their work.

"We are not a political entity; we are not dealing with politics -- that has made the system successful. We help them [Mediterranean countries] deal with what they have in common: technical issues, environmental gaps," he said. "There have been some tough times [due to regional tensions] but we have always managed to overcome the difficulties. We have team experts who are coming from areas that do not have good relations but they are able to work together."

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Tags: Boats | Israel | Jordan | Lebanon | Oceans | Pollution | Turkey

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