It is widely accepted that Mediterranean Sea is the uniting element and the centre of World History for a significant part of the globe. From the ancient times, the Mediterranean Sea was the most important route, not only for traders and merchants but also for cultural exchange and osmosis of various civilizations that thrived in different historic periods. In today’s world, Mediterranean Sea continues to play an important economic, political and financial role, not only for its twenty-two coastal states but for the global community as well. However, this source of prosperity, the Mediterranean Sea, is facing today great challenges and environmental threats; invasive species, sea level rise, loss of biodiversity, over fishing and uncontrolled aquaculture are some of them. But the most important threat that Mediterranean is facing today, is the pollution, largely due to the shipping operations and activities. It is worth mentioning, that, today, more than 30% of all international sea-borne trade by volume originates from or directed to Mediterranean ports or passing through its waters, and nearly 25% of the world's sea-transported oil transits Mediterranean Sea. Moreover, it is estimated that 2,000 merchant vessels of over 100 tons are at sea at any moment, with a total of 200,000 crossing the Mediterranean annually. It is worth mentioning, that only the Suez Canal witnesses over 14,500 transits annually. This over activity of marine/shipping related operations has a dramatic consequence to the Mediterranean Sea. According to recent scientific studies conducted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), although the Mediterranean Sea constitutes 0.7% of the global water surface it receives seventeen percent of global marine oil pollution. More specifically, it is estimated that every year between 100,000 t (98,000 long tons) and 150,000 t (150,000 long tons) of crude oil are deliberately released into the sea from shipping activities.
To make the matters even worse, a tremendous threat is looming above the populations living in the Mediterranean Sea; a big scale oil spill incident, which can have catastrophic consequences at financial, environmental and social level. It is still fresh in the memories the accident of Prestige, an oil tanker that sank off the coast of Spain, in November 2002; the oil was washed ashore, causing extensive damage to the environment, tourist industry and fishing industry. The same can be said for the oil pollution incident in Lebanon, in 2006, which is the biggest oil pollution incident so far in the South East Mediterranean.
Nowadays, the risk of a big scale oil spill incident is greater than ever due to the deployment of a series of offshore installations across the Mediterranean Sea. According to a recent study made by the Mediterranean Oil Industry Group (MOIG), there are approximately 100 facilities handling oil in the Mediterranean Sea. Among them the 40% are refineries, 24% are ports, 26% are oil terminals and 10% are offshore platforms. These offshore facilities/installations pose a great risk to the sea and coastal environment and the consequences of a big scale incident can be devastating not only at local but at regional level as well, affecting the economies of many countries at Mediterranean Basin Level. The risks associated with the deployment of offshore platforms can be clearly seen in the catastrophic oil spill incident from the offshore Deep Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the effects of which were devastating for the environment and the local economy; these effects will be seen for many years to come. These types of accidents have shown clearly the importance of risk assessment for mitigating the risks associated with the deployment of offshore installations.
The risks associated with the deployment of offshore installations in the Mediterranean Sea prompted the adoption of the Protocol for the protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution resulting from Exploration and Exploitation of the Continental Shelf and the Sea Bed and its Subsoil, commonly known as Offshore Protocol, which is one of the seven Protocols of the Barcelona Convention. The Offshore Protocol was adopted on 14th October 1994 (Madrid, Spain) and entered into force on 24th March 2011. The Offshore Protocol urges the contracting parties to develop an impact damage assessment, which takes into account all those elements that can affect the sea and coastal environment due to the deployment of offshore installations and facilities.
RAOP-MED project aims to offer a holistic study on the risks associated with the exploitation and exploration of the continental shelf and seabed, that includes prevention, early detection and control of the oil spill, re-organisation and re-distribution of the resources available for efficient and accurate combat of the oil spill at the early stages and, furthermore, to raise awareness of the possible consequences of such an incident in financial, environmental and social level.
Therefore, RAOP MED specific objective is the development of a comprehensive Risk Management Plan that will not only evaluate the risk of an oil spill incident caused by offshore platform but, equally important, will propose all the necessary structural and institutional changes and suggest possible response mechanisms that need to be taken into account in order to minimize the response time and improve the overall performance of competent authorities and relevant stakeholders to an oil-spill combat.