Specifically, this judgment allows European coastal states to detain and penalise ships for breaching MARPOL in their EEZ, even if the ship did not call at any of its ports.
In particular, the case regarded a bulk carrier that spilled oil as it was passing about 30 km off Finland. The ship was within the Finnish EEZ but not its territorial waters. Finland did not take any cnter-pollution measures and the slick did not reach the coastline, neither did it lead to damage to the environment or Finnish property.
Some days after the incident, the ship returned through Finland’s EEZ and the Finnish Coast Guard detained it for two days until the shipowner provided security in the amount of €17,112. A fine was later imposed by the Finnish courts for that same amount.
The shipowner challenged the fine to a Finnish maritime court. This first instance court dismissed the action and the following Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal, but the Finnish referring courts wanted clarification from the ECJ on several questions.
What is more, it was questioned whether Finnish courts had the right over pollution incidents taking place in Finland’s EEZ and whether Finland had the jurisdiction to interfere with the vessel’s passage through the EEZ in such circumstances.
The ECJ decided that a coastal state can interfere with the ship's right of free passage where:
- The coastal state has clear objective evidence that a foreign vessel is the source of a discharge that breached MARPOL pollution regulations;
- The breach caused or threatened to cause major damage to the coastline or related interests of the coastal state or to the resources of the coastal state.
Furthermore, the ECJ concluded that 'resources' can be very widely defined so that damage or a threat of damage to anything at all within the EEZ could trigger the coastal state's jurisdiction.
North Club concluded by saying that it is possible that other EU countries will now begin to use this ECJ judgment to assert rights of enforcement over incidents happening within their EEZ.