(dpa) - The European Commission on Tuesday moved to safeguard Europe's seas by asking all member states to treat pollution by ships as a criminal offence.
The proposal, which will need to be discussed by national governments and by the European Parliament, seeks to amend existing rules in light of a recent ruling by the European Court of Justice.
In its October 23, 2007 decision, the court ruled that polluting the sea, whether intentionally or not, should always be treated as a criminal offence.
As things stand, member states are still free to decide whether such offences should be treated as criminal or not.
"The new directive is ... a signal that the (European) Community does not tolerate safe havens for offenders who severely damage our natural resources," Franco Frattini, the EU executive's justice, freedom and security commissioner said in a statement.
EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot said the new rules were directed at "the small minority of operators" who, by behaving irresponsibly, "tarnish the image of the shipping industry."
The existing EU rules were adopted in 2005, in the aftermath of a series of major accidents in Europe. These included the Prestige oil spill of November 2002 off the Spanish and Portuguese coasts, and the Erika spill of 2000 off the Brittany coast of France.