The grounding of the Torrey Canyon in 1967, and subsequent release of 117,000 tonnes of oil with disastrous consequences for the environment, proved to be a pivotal point for international cooperation to combat marine pollution in the North-East Atlantic. It ultimately stimulated the signature, in 1969, of the Agreement for Cooperation in Dealing with Pollution of the North Sea by Oil (the "Bonn Agreement").
The next important development in the growing general awareness of the dangers of pollution of the seas and oceans came with the agreement and signature of the Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping from Ships and Aircraft (the "Oslo Convention"). Again, as often is the case, it had taken a concrete example to remind the countries concerned that the unlimited deliberate dumping of (industrial) waste into the sea could lead to an unacceptable situation. This example was provided by a Dutch ship, the "Stella Maris" which, having sailed from the port of Rotterdam on 16 July 1971 to dump chlorinated waste in the North Sea, was obliged to return to port on 25 July (without carrying out her mission) because of the combined weight of public opinion and of the Governments of several countries. In February 1972, within eight months of this event, the Oslo Convention was signed, and it entered into force in 1974.
It was also felt necessary at this time to draw up a similar document, dealing not with the prevention of marine pollution by dumping, but instead with the prevention of marine pollution by discharges of dangerous substances from land-based sources, watercourses or pipelines. Negotiations on this topic resulted in the completion of the Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Land-Based Sources (the "Paris Convention") which was opened for signature in June 1974 and which entered into force in 1978.
The Oslo and Paris Commissions
The Oslo Commission was established to administer the Oslo Convention. Initially, the Commission's task was to regulate and control the dumping at sea of industrial wastes, sewage sludge and dredged material and the incineration at sea of liquid industrial wastes. The dumping of industrial wastes and sewage sludge and incineration at sea have now been phased out.
The Paris Commission was established to administer the Paris Convention. The Commission regulated and controlled inputs of substances and energy to the sea from land-based sources (via the atmosphere, rivers, or direct discharges) and also from offshore platforms. The Commission was involved in a thorough review of the use and manufacture of various substances in order to establish the best environmental practice or best available techniques to prevent pollution. It also embarked on a series of measures to protect parts of the Convention area affected by high levels of nutrients, which have been linked to the occurrence of abnormal algal blooms.
The OSPAR Convention
A meeting of the Oslo and Paris Commissions at Ministerial level was held in Paris on 21-22 September 1992 (MMC 1992). This meeting was attended by Ministers responsible for the marine environment of the 14 signatory states to the Oslo and Paris Conventions, by Switzerland and by a representative of the Commission of the European Communities. The most important outcome of this Ministerial Meeting was the adoption of the new Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (the "OSPAR Convention"), together with a Final Declaration and an Action Plan to guide the future work of the Commissions.
Although the OSPAR Convention did not finally enter into force until early 1998, for all practical purposes, the Oslo and Paris Commissions have worked as one entity since MMC 1992.
The Convention also allows the adoption of additional annexes to protect the maritime area of the Convention. The first new annex was adopted by the 1998 Ministerial Meeting of the OSPAR Commission (MMC 1998). This Annex V contains provisions with regard to the protection and conservation of the ecosystems and biological diversity of the maritime area.
The Convention finally also established the OSPAR Commission, as successor to the Oslo and Paris Commissions, to administer the Convention and to develop policy and international agreements in this field.
The 1998 Ministerial Meeting of the OSPAR Commission adopted strategies to direct its future work in the following four main areas:
- protection and conservation of ecosystems and biological diversity;
As agreed at OSPAR/MMC 1998, the OSPAR Commission meeting in 1999 adopted a further Strategy on Environmental Goals and Management Mechanisms for Offshore Activities.