Freemantle Highway incident underlines relevance of Wadden Sea’s PSSA designation

The Freemantle Highway has now been successfully towed to Eemshaven harbour. While the threat of an ecological catastrophe is not completely resolved, it has been reduced considerably. The course of the accident can be followed on the news feed of Rijkswaterstaat of the Dutch Ministry for Infrastructure and Water Management. The Freemantle Highway is the latest shipping incident directly threatening the fragile Wadden Sea ecosystem.

The case underlines the significance of the Wadden Sea’s designation as Particularly Sensitive Sea Area of 2002, which was also referred to in the recently signed Wilhelmshaven Declaration, formulating the course of 2023-2026 of the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation. The Wadden Sea ministers of Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands therein urge the Wadden Sea Board to ensure the further implementation of the 2014 PSSA Operational Plans as well as urge for an evaluation and review of existing safety measures to the PSSA Wadden Sea with the responsible shipping authorities and relevant stakeholders. Artikel 24 states that “[...]Lessons learned from previous maritime emergencies have been and should be consistently drawn and implemented. [...]” In addition, the issue of shipping and ports has been identified as one of the five key topics within The SIMP Integrated Management Plan for ONE Wadden Sea World Heritage, a milestone document in the trilateral cooperation. Further, at the Wadden Sea Conference in Wilhelmshaven (D), representatives of environmental NGOs as well as Wadden Sea ports and harbours jointly signed the "Sustainable shipping and ports initiative for a well-protected Wadden Sea".

Granted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which is the UN organization responsible for the world-wide regulation of shipping, a PSSA designation serves as a signal to the international shipping community to recognise the sensitivity of the area to shipping risks and paves the way for further protection and sustainable use of the area. It recognises the Wadden Sea's socio-economic, ecological, and scientific significance as an outstanding natural site of global importance.