Last month, in response to the European Commission’s request for public consultation on whistleblower protection the National Whistleblower Center (“NWC”) recommended they adopt specific protections for seamen who report ocean pollution.

Many of the international seamen are crew members onboard international ships and do not have employment retaliation protections in their home country, therefore there is little incentive for them to report violations of ocean pollution. The United States has enacted the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (“APPS”), a whistleblower law covering this type of informant under its MARPOL implementing legislation.

“This highly effective law rewards international whistleblowers for the risks they take when reporting information, facilitates detection and prosecution of these clandestine crimes, and can be easily replicated in the European Union (“E.U.”),” said NWC.

Under APPS, if a whistleblower provides evidence that leads to a successful prosecution, they are awarded up to 50% of the monies (sanctions, fines, and penalties, etc.) obtained from the criminal actors. Not only does this incentivize reporting, but the reward helps offset the risk of reporting for whistleblowers who reside in countries with no retaliation protections. The U.S. Courts have recognized the importance of whistleblowers and, in most cases, have awarded whistleblowers the maximum reward. The APPS whistleblower provision also provides a financial benefit to the U.S. Government. In 75 APPS cases involving a whistleblower, the Government has collected over $278 million dollars.

Over 30 European countries have signed or ratified MARPOL, which obligates Parties to take steps to implement ocean pollution prevention laws, but no European Country has enacted a whistleblower law for reporting violations of ocean pollution.

The APPS whistleblower provision has been a very effective tool, but only a handful of seamen report violations. As the U.S. Department of Justice has recognized, “thousands of seafarers participate in or are aware of illegal conduct on their vessels” every year, but only “a tiny minority choose to take active measures to stop the wrongdoing and bear witness.”

NWC urges the European Commission to adopt a seamen whistleblower protection law because the United States cannot prosecute ocean pollution violators alone.

“Ocean pollution is a worldwide problem that needs to be aggressively tackled, and based on the highly successful U.S. program, whistleblowers are needed to effectively police pollution from ships occurring on the high seas,” said NWC.

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