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The EU Maritime Profile - maritime safety

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To ensure quality shipping, environmental protection, high standards for living and working conditions for the seafarers and – above all – to preserve life at sea, a comprehensive body of international and EU legislation is applied to ships by the flag States, whilst controlled as well by the countries the ships call.

This section, for the time being, looks at how ships are inspected to increase safety, statistics on port state control, fishing vessels and accidents involving vessels.

The states where ships are registered, known as flag States, have an important role to play in enforcing relevant legislation and standards, because they exercise regulatory control over their registered fleet.

This way, they contribute to issues such as ensuring safety of life at sea, protection of the marine environment, and the provision of decent working and living conditions for seafarers.

Based on the performance of each flag State fleet, lists of States are compiled under regional cooperation agreements (the so-called Port State Control Memoranda of Understanding, or MoUs). The so-called “White, Grey and Black lists” that some of the MoU’s have established provide information ranging from quality flags to flags with a poor performance that are considered high or very high risk and is based on the total number of inspections and detentions during a pre-defined period.

EU Member States have a proven record of safety, and are consequently on the white lists of the Paris MoU and the Tokyo MoU.

Inspections of EU ships

To ensure that ships are safe and comply with what is required by the various International Conventions and EU legislation,, they are inspected on a regular basis by the authorities of the State whose flag they fly, in order to ensure jurisdiction and control in administrative, technical and social matters.

However, the failure or poor performance of a number of of flag State may result in sub-standard ships sailing around the globe. To avoid the proliferation of substandard shipping, an additional safety barrier, the Port State Control, was developed, which functions as a second line of defence.

Port State Control means that ships can be inspected by the authorities of states at which they call, regardless of what flag they fly. Port State officers are entitled to verify that the condition of the ship and its equipment comply with the requirements of international maritime legislation and that the ship is manned and operated in compliance with these rules and obligations. These requirements are all defined in international Conventions. For ships calling EU, stricter requirements imposed by EU law also apply and are being verified by PSC.

Port State Control is part of the EU maritime safety legislation framework. The main regime in the European region is the Paris MoU. But as EU Member State-flagged ships undertake many international journeys on an annual basis, thousands of them then undergo inspections under various Port State Control regimes.

When a Port State Control officer finds that a ship is not compliant with the relevant international obligations, they can issue one or more deficiencies, and request that the ship be brought back to compliance within a certain timeframe. If the breach is severe enough to make the ship unseaworthy, then the Port State Control officer can issue a detention; a formal prohibition which stops the ship from leaving port.

To measure the quality of a country’s fleet, the most important factor is the percentage of detained ships of the total number of ships inspected, the so-called detention rate.

In all regions of the world, EU Member State-flagged ships have a lower detention rate than non-EU Member State-flagged ships. For instance, in the EU region (the Paris MoU) in 2020, less than two inspected ship in a hundred was detained (1.8% in the graph below), while this percentage was slightly more than four ships in a hundred for ships flying non-EU Member State flags (4.2% in the graph below).

Port State Control inspections carried out in EU Member States

EU Member States target and inspect thousands of ships calling to their ports every year. This encompasses ships flying the flag of other EU Member States and ships flying a non-EU flag.

Fishing vessels

Fleet Size

For fishing vessels length is a key parameter used as a threshold in the scope of fishing vessel safety legislation. The EU fishing vessel fleet is :

  • composed of around 75,000 ships, which makes this category of ship the most numerous in the EU;
  • the larger proportion (91%) is below 15 m in length.
  • 6% measure between 15 m and 24 m in length (under the scope of Directive 2009/18/EC);
  • 3% measure 24 metres in length or more (under the scope of the Directives 97/70/EC and 2009/18/EC);

A more detailed analysis of the typology of vessels by length shows that, for those Member States with a significant fishing fleet (over 6,000 vessels), most of their fleet is composed of vessels below 15 metres

The EU fishing fleet tends to have an older age profile. Vessels measuring less than 24 metres and more than 25 years of age represent most of the fleet. This trend is different for the range of vessels above 24 metres, where older vessels represent less than half of the total fleet.

This means the fleet covered under the relevant EU Directives is relatively small in terms of the number of vessels, but it covers the largest 10%. The smaller ships, typically owned by self-employed people using traditional techniques, are out of the scope of EU legislation. Many fishing boats are essentially family businesses, and that their owners are entirely economically dependent on the income they generate, there can sometimes be a need to fish overlooking possible safety implications

Fishing vessel age distribution LOA<15

Fishing vessel age distribution for 24>LOA>=15 metres

Fishing vessel age distribution for LOA>=24 metres

Number of ship accidents for EU Member State-flagged vessels

Accidents statistics have been a key reactive tool for the implementation of new safety, security, pollution prevention, and protection of workers on board vessels. EMSA is charge of the European Maritime Casualty Investigation Platform (EMCIP), through which EU Member States can notify marine casualties and incidents, and report the data resulting from safety investigations.

Accidents are reported under four categories, ranging from the least serious (Marine incidents and Less Serious Accidents) to the most serious ones (Serious and Very Serious Accidents). Examples of accidents reported include: serious injuries occurring on-board; the pollution of sensitive areas; ships subject to significant structural damage and casualties which disrupt major port operations; or in extreme cases, the complete loss of a ship, death of a crew member, or severe damage to the environment.

The number of fatalities in 2020 and 2021 on board ships flying flags of EU Member States, was lower than the previous two years.

No more than six EU Member State-flagged ships have been lost each year since 2016.

Pollution events too have been declining year-on-year over the past five years.

No more than five EU Member State-flagged ships have been lost each year since 2016.

From an accident perspective, 17% of all ships involved the occurrences registered in EMCIP correspond to fishing vessels.

From the data available it appears that fishing vessels are more vulnerable to accidents, not primarily in terms of frequency, but in terms of the seriousness of the consequences when they do occur. The rate of very serious casualties and serious casualties for fishing vessels is much higher compared to other ship types. Even though accidents to fishing vessels represent 17% of the total number, the number of fishing vessels with serious and very serious accident represents more than 53% of total number of accidents where fishing vessels are involved compared to 26% of the total number of accidents where other type of ships are involved. This trend was observed in recent years and it can be concluded that when an accident occurs with a fishing ship, the probabilities of total loss or serious consequences are higher than for any other ship type, thus confirming their vulnerability.