The centrepiece of the Danish programme is a method of oil analysis known as finger-printing. Officials say this can match a spill to fuel in an offending vessel with 100% accuracy and is acceptable proof under relevant international conventions and in international courts.
Another system, known as backtracking, analyses how oil moves in the sea and can speed up the identification of the source. Day-to-day responsibility for monitoring Danish territorial waters has been transferred from the environment ministry to the defence ministry and will include regular aerial reconnaissance flights. The trial use of satellites was introduced in November 1998.
The Danish moves to boost controls on oil pollution from shipping will be used to help enforce new international regulations affecting shipping in the North Sea and Baltic Sea negotiated under the auspices of the International Maritime Organisation and the Helsinki Commission respectively.
From 1 August this year, all shipping in the North Sea will be banned from discharging oil or oily substances into the water. The measure is included in an annex to the 1973 Marpol convention on pollution from shipping, which was signed by member states last year (ENDS Daily 26 September 1997).
From July 2000 vessels in the Baltic sea off Denmark's east coast – which already enjoyed special protection under the 1974 Helsinki convention - will have to produce documentation showing where they intend to deliver oil wastes for treatment, under recent revisions to the convention. Special fees for using waste facilities in ports will be waived as an incentive (ENDS Daily 27 March 1998).
Danish officials believe that the overall level of oil pollution by shipping in the North Sea has fallen in recent years. The number of reported spillages in Danish waters has remained constant at about 400 a year in the past 10 years, but the average size of spillages is thought to have fallen. Officials point to a drop in annual beach cleaning costs from DKr4m (euros 541,000) in 1995 to DKr1.2m in 1998 as evidence for this trend.
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