The Legal and Policy context of Multi-use Offshore Platforms

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The MERMAID project, will develop concepts for a next generation offshore platforms for multi-use of ocean space for energy extraction, aquaculture and platform related transport. Both economical, technical, environmental and site-specific challenges related to multi-use offshore platforms (MUPs) will be investigated. An important aspect of this kind of large-scale development projects, is to identify the legislation and policies in place that regulate and sometimes limit the development of the MUPs. Within the MERMAID project an inventory [1] was built of the international, European and site-specific legislation and policies that are related explicitly or implicitly to the development and adoption of offshore wind farms and aquaculture projects. Below, the most relevant international and European legislation and policies are listed.

An important concept in the development of MUPs is Ecosystem Based Management (EBM) which is universally acknowledged as an approach that accommodates the complete set of interactions within an ecosystem, including humans, rather than accounting for single issues, species, or ecosystem services in isolation. EBM could be bolstered by tools such as Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) and Ocean Zoning (OZ). MSP is an integrated planning framework to manage human activities in space and time to deliver on defined planning objectives, whereas OZ consists of a set of supervisory measures designed to enforce marine spatial plans. MSP constitutes the cornerstone of the legislation and policies that regulate and limit the development of human projects related to the marine environment.

Offshore Wind Farms

International legislation and Policies

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS; UN 1982) is a universal system of laws and rules for the world's oceans and seas, covering extensively the use of the oceans and their natural resources. UNCLOS introduces some concepts and regulations which are of specific importance for the development of MUPs:

  • Countries with coasts own sovereign rights in a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) with respect to natural resources and specific economic activities, and exercise authority over marine science research and environmental protection. Hence, the coastal state has in its EEZ, the exclusive rights, to exploit its renewable resources and to construct and to authorize and regulate the construction, operation and use of artificial islands and of installation and structures to exploit those resources.
  • With regard to navigation, UNCLOS stipulates that the coastal state may in its EEZ or above its continental shelf, where necessary, establish reasonable safety zones around the artificial islands, installations and structures, in which it may take appropriate measures to ensure the safety of navigation and of the artificial islands, installations and structures.
  • UNCLOS regulates the removal of installations once the offshore wind energy production has ceased.

There are some conventions of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) with regard to maritime safety which are (indirectly) relevant for the development of MUPs.

  • The Convention on the International Regulationsfor Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREG) is the main convention for regulating international maritime traffic.
  • The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) introduces (Chapter V, regulation 8) the possibility to establish “areas to be avoided” and other routing measures.

Public participation plays a central role in the development process of offshore wind farms and is required by two international legal instruments: Articles 7 and 8 of the Aarhus Convention and the Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment under the Espoo EIA-Convention.

European legislation and Policies

Currently, the integration of electricity-producing renewable energies, including wind, is regulated by the EC Directive 2001/77/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 September 2001 on the promotion of electricity produced from renewable energy sources in the internal electricity market. The 2001 Directive was replaced by the recently agreed Renewable Energy Directive during 2010 and 2011.

With regard to environmental considerations, offshore wind farm development must satisfy two ‘assessment’ processes required under European law: An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and in addition, the Directive 2001/42/EC on the assessment of the affects of certain plans and programmes on the environment (SEA Directive) requires the governments to conduct Strategic Environmental Assessment at the planning and programme level of offshore wind farm development.

Many of the potential impacts of wind farms can be significantly reduced through proper mitigation measures. Therefore, Europe, addressing the challenge of preserving environment from the potential adverse effects of wind farms, has recently established explicit rules mainly through the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive.

Marine Aquaculture

International legislation and Policies

When discussing the regulation of aquaculture in ocean waters, a distinction has to be made between the varying areas where operations can take place. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS; UN 1982) divides the oceans in several jurisdictional zones, which are subject to different legal regimes: the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone, the continental shelf and the high seas. In the territorial sea, the legislation concerning aquaculture is mainly national law. UNCLOS gives a coastal state jurisdiction and sovereign rights over economic activity (such as marine aquaculture), marine scientific research and environmental matters in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Beyond the EEZ, the coastal state only has an exclusive right to the resources contained within the seabed in the area of the continental shelf. In the high seas, the construction of installations such as aquaculture sites constitutes a part of the ‘freedom of the high seas’. Furthermore, UNCLOS also addresses aspects related to environmental law which are of importance to marine aquaculture. Article 118 can be interpreted in a way that it requires states to ensure that their farming practices do not threaten wild stocks or interfere with their conservation.

With regard to the environmental aspects of marine aquaculture, several international conventions have to be taken into account:

  • The 1972 Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, better known as the Stockholm Declaration.
  • The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development of 1992, produced at the 1992 United Nations ‘Earth Summit’ comprises 27 principles intended to promote sustainable development around the world. During this meeting the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was introduced which is the most inclusive and prominent global tool dealing with the threats to marine and coastal biodiversity, and safeguarding, understanding and employing marine resources in a reasonable and eco-friendly manner.
  • The FAO Code of Conduct for Fisheries (1995) sets out principles and international standards of behavior for responsible practices aiming at maintaining effective conservation, management and development of living aquatic resources with a respect for the ecosystem and biodiversity. The Code also governs the catch, processing and trade of fish and fishery products, fishing operations, aquaculture, fisheries research and the integration of fisheries into coastal area management.
  • Established in 1992, during the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Brazil, the United Nations Agenda 21 plan is a universal set of actions to be adopted by countries all over the world in order to protect the environment from the adverse effects of human intervention.

European legislation and Policies

On a European scale, marine aquaculture is largely regulated by the regulations of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). This policy brings together a range of measures designed to achieve a thriving and sustainable European fishing industry, which also includes aquaculture. The Commission has embarked on a CFP reform process (Green Paper, 2009) since the targets agreed in 2002 to reach sustainable fisheries that have not been fulfilled. With regard to the environmental aspects of marine aquaculture, several legislative documents are of importance:

  • The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) requires Member States to prepare national strategies to manage their seas to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) by 2020. The directive, inter alia, promotes the integration of environmental considerations into all relevant policy areas and delivers the environmental pillar of the integrated maritime policy for the European Union.
  • The Birds and Habitats Directives
  • The EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) is considered as a crucial ingredient of the water protection management within the river basins and focuses on coastal and inland waters. The WFD is a regulatory set of rules that elucidates and updates current water legislation by introducing common objectives within the EU for water (inland surface waters, transitional waters, coastal waters and groundwater) and establishes an integrated and coordinated approach to water management in Europe.

See also

  1. Legislation for the sea
  2. Topic:International treaties
  3. United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS; 1982)
  4. The International Maritime Organization (IMO)
  5. Eurlex - direct free access to European Union law
  6. The EU Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG-MARE)
  7. The EU Environment Directorate-General
  8. Energy Strategy for Europe
  9. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)


  1. MERMAID project deliverable 2.1: An inventory of Legislation of Polices

The authors of this article are Phoebe Koundouri, Vasilis Babalos, Ioannis Anastasiou, Antonis Antypas, Nikolaos Kouregunis, Aris Moussoulides, Marianna Mousoulides, Mavra Stithou, Marian Stuiver, Sander van den Burg, Robert Jan Fontein, Thorbjørn Harkamp, Lisbeth Jess Plesner, Barbara Zanuttigh, Fabio Zagonari, Inigo Losada, Raul Guanche
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.