ACTIVITY  OF THE COAST GUARD FOR THE PROTECTION OF MARINE AND COASTAL ENVIRONMENT COVERED BY THE MARINE ENVIRONMENT DEPARTMENT

Along with the already defined specific powers assigned to the Maritime Authority by the Law n. 979/1982 and by the Navigation Code, the Law n. 537 dated 24th December 1993 and the subsequent  Joint Ministerial Decree dated 28th April 1994 transferred to the Ministry for the Environment (where the Coast Guard Marine Environment Department was established) the functions of the abolished Ministry of Merchant Marine for the protection and defense of the sea and assigned to the Coast Guard all the operational activities in the area, including the surveillance of Marine Protected Areas, depending on the Ministry.

Therefore the Coast Guard Headquarters  exerts - through its Operations center, the peripheral commands and the Air Stations - the services  related to the actions for fighting marine pollution. This system is integrated by a satellite surveillance service, as part of a specific collaboration with EMSA (European Maritime Safety Agency).

A National Operation Plan is set for fighting marine pollution, based on two types of emergencies (Local and National) along with three operating conditions: at the first stage the local emergency operational plans arranged by each Harbour Master Office; at the second stage the operational emergency plan against pollution by hydrocarbons and other harmful substances defined by the Ministry for the Environment; at the third stage - only for pollution leading to the declaration of national emergency - the emergency response plan for national defense against pollution of hydrocarbons or other harmful substances caused by marine accidents, established by the Department of Civil Protection in the year 2010.

The Coast Guard has two mobile environmental laboratories (LAM) equipped for environmental sampling and immediate analysis on the physicochemical properties determining the pollutant behavior at sea and in fresh water; they are land mobile technical /scientific structures for supporting the operational capabilities of the periphery and can be sent easily over the territory.

The single text about environment - Legislative Decree n. 152 dated 3rd April 2006 - at art. 135 and 195 assignes to the Coast Guard functions of surveillance and investigation on irregularities in the wastewater and waste solids management.

Furthermore, the adoption of several EU directives enhanced the environmental competences of the Coast Guard. In this context, Legislative Decree n. 182/2003, implementing Directive 2000/59/EC, assigns to the Coast Guard inspection and police authority on the gathering of ship-generated waste and cargo residues as well as waste produced by marine platforms in order to prevent their release into the sea.

In the year 2007 Legislative Decrees n. 202/2007 and 205/2007 implemented, respectively, Directive 2005/35/EC on ship-source pollution and penalties and Directive 2005/33/EC about the sulfur content of marine fuels. For both they state that the controls and the establishment of violations be realized by the Criminal Investigation officers and personnel of the Coast Guard.

A final step to ensure the defense of sensitive areas from potential pollution hazards was made on 2nd March 2012 by the Decree establishing the Buffer Zone by the Minister of Infrastructure and Transport and the Minister of Environment: it sets limits for transiting close to protected national areas and sites of particular environmental sensitivity.

Significant as well are supervisory and control activities delivered by the men and women of the Coast Guard in the sites of national interest, located within coastal areas with the purpose of environmental restoration and recovery of those areas particularly affected by pollution.

Regarding Marine Protected Areas, art. 28 of Law n. 979/1982 and the subsequent Law n. 394/91 (art. 19, paragraphs 1 and 7) establish that the Ministry for the Environment may use the Coast Guard for surveillance and management of marine reserves.  

Moreover, these norms establish a reserve commission appointed by a Ministerial Decree supporting the management unit of Public authority, scientific institutions or recognized environmental associations (also jointly associated) developing proposals and suggestions related to the operations of the reserve and providing their own opinion on the rules of organization (designed by the managing authority and approved by Decree of the Ministry for the Environment). The Harbour Master also takes part in this Commission: this presence is particularly significant representing not only the environmental protection, but also maritime traffic and fishing activities, pleasure craft as well as everything related to the local maritime cluster.

Another important function of the Harbour Master is establishing Ordnances that concretely apply the organizational and managerial discipline of the protected area. In the case of new establishment of marine protected areas, this measure is particularly important during the period between the publication of the issuing decree on the Official Journal and the identification of the managing authority (additional time will follow to allow the reserve to work: time required for the appointment of the reserve Commission and the issue of organizational regulations); all over this period the marine area may remain without any form of protection. Thanks to the Ordnances issued by the Harbour Master, the preservation of the reserve is instead immediately guaranteed; moreover, the Coast Guard provides constant information to marine users about the existence of protected areas and the related protective measures.

Art. 30 of Law n. 979/82 provides  that relevant administrative fines are applied by the Coast Guard for violations of the constraints contained in the reserve establishing decree, when violations are not to be considered crime, and reserve the managing authority powers.

It is possible also the confiscation of tools and instruments used to commit the offense, along with the restitution of the removed goods. The sanctions system set by the legislator for the protection of marine protected areas, is integrated by art. 30 of Law n. 394/1991: it provides contravention offenses punishable with jail or monetary penalty, alternatively or cumulatively, as well as administrative fines.

From this perspective the Coast Guard planning activity has been growing in terms of commitment for all the 27 marine protected areas, the 2 submerged marine parks and the cetacean sanctuary (Pelagos), making it possible to use its ships for direct supervision.

The Marine Environmental Department of the Coast Guard (MED), set by Law n. 179 of 31st July 2002 "Measures for environmental matters" (replacing the already active organizational unit of the Corps, as for art. 7 of the agreement signed on 6th August 1999 by the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Transport and Navigation), is functionally reporting to the Minister for the Environment. Its purpose is to achieve a more rapid and effective support for the execution of institutional duties relating to the environment; it is also the connecting Institutional unit used by the Ministry of Environment and the Coast Guard Headquarters.

It is structured by the joint Ministerial Decree (Environment, Infrastructure and Transportation, Defense) on 8th May 2003 in three administrative offices and one secretariat. The specific functions of each structure were established by the Decree of the Ministry of Environment dated 14th October 2003, where it is expressly stated that the MED is expected to deliver the tasks assigned directly by the Minister cooperating with the Cabinet Office and the Directorate-General both from a technical/operational and legal profile; at the same time, it has to develop the necessary connecting activities between the Department of the Environment and the Coast Guard Headquarters.

As for art. 8 of Presidential Decree dated 17th June 2003  "Regulation for the implementation of the Ministry of Environment & Protection of Natural Resources", the MED is amongst the technical/scientific support  units used by the Department of the Environment science for the exercise of institutional functions on coastal marine environment preservation (recommendation reconfirmed by art. 9 of the new "Regulation on the internal reorganization of the Ministry for the Environment", approved and implemented by Decree of the President of the Republic n. 140 dated 3rd August 2009, art. 9). Moreover, as for Directorial Decree  dated 24th April 2008 "Obligations arising from the implementation of Law n. 979/1982", implementing the International Marpol 73/78 Convention and other IMO Conventions for the protection of the marine environment, the MED delegates the leadership of the task force to the Head of the Department of Marine Environment  as for art. 6 of Law n. 220 dated 28th February 1992 (OJ n. 181 dated 4th August 2008), assuming  more challenging tasks of inspection, managing and operating in the field of environmental safety at sea with particular reference to the risk of marine accidents and prevention and fighting against marine pollution. ‚Äč