On 25th July 2023, the car-carrying cargo ship MV Fremantle Highway caught fire off the coast of the Dutch island of Ameland. The ship was en route from Bremerhaven to Port Said (Egypt) with Singapore as its final destination. It was carrying approximately 3,000 vehicles, presumably destined for sale in Asia. As fuel, the ship was reportedly carrying 1,600 tons of heavy fuel oil and 200 tons of marine diesel oil. Should the ship have sunk or lost structural integrity, long-term environmental damage would have been caused to the Wadden Sea World Heritage Site. The heavy oil would have sunk to the bottom of the sea and would have taken decades to degrade. The marine diesel would have remained for longer on the surface and impacted severely on seabird populations, as well as harbour porpoises and seals (NABU). By way of comparison, the wrecking of the Pallas freight ship in October 1998 with 756 tonnes of oil on board, close to the island of Amrum at the Wadden Sea coast of Schleswig-Holstein, led to a 20-km long oil spill and the deaths of approximately 16,000 seabirds.
The damaged MV Freemantle Highway en route to the port of Eemshaven, photographed from the coast of Borkum, photo: S. Engler-Walsh.
Over the past number of months, I have worked with the Northern and Western Regional Assembly in Ireland on a Position Paper on Marine Spatial Planning and the role of regional assemblies and local authorities in preparing subnational marine spatial plans. The Position Paper was presented to the elected Members of the Northern and Western Regional Assembly at its June Monthly meeting whereby it was warmly welcomed and fully endorsed by the Assembly. It is published here on the website of the NWRA, and also available to download here (on this website).
The report examines options for the preparation of Designated Maritime Area Plans (DMAPs) for the Northern and Western Region (NWR), provides a review of learnings from international best practice, and undertakes a scoping assessment of economic opportunities specific to the marine economy of the NWR. The Paper identifies regional governance options for the rollout of Designated Marine Area Plans and outlines a series of recommendations on practical steps to be taken to progress MSP in the Northern and Western Region. This is the first study to address the regional dimension of marine spatial planning in Ireland and has implications for each of the Irish regional assemblies as they move forward with MSP for the Irish Sea, Celtic Sea and Atlantic coastal waters.
Last week, the FREIIA (Facilitating Resilience Enhancing Islands Innovation Approaches) project team met on the Koster islands in Sweden for two days of intensive meetings and excursions. The Interreg North Sea Programme funded FREIIA project includes researchers and practitioners from a diverse range of organisations in Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Germany, with a common focus on the development of better governance for small offshore islands. The Koster islands and Koster National Park are located off the southwest coast of Sweden, close to the border with Norway. They cover an area of approximately 12 square kilometres with a resident population of c. 300 people.
Effective and coherent public safety messaging is essential to ensuring communities are prepared and public authorities can respond rapidly and efficiently in the event of hazard events (whether extreme weather events, major traffic incidents, flooding, regional power cuts epidemics).
Coherent public safety messaging and coordinated response is particularly important for peripheral cross-border regions where authorities and first responders in each jurisdiction might otherwise be following different protocols. Working closely with Monaghan County Council (Republic of Ireland) and the Cross Border Emergency Management Group, the International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD) will conduct applied research with the aim of advancing cross-border public safety messaging on the island of Ireland. This six month project will assess the current delivery of public safety messaging on both sides of the border, examine how public-safety messaging is perceived by diverse sections of the community and develop proposals for the improvement of public-safety messaging through an innovative citizen panel based co-design process. The analysis will follow a Prepare-Response-Recovery Framework, ensuring that all three emergency management phases are given due attention.
For the purposes of this project, I will lead an interdisciplinary research team with expertise in spatial planning, environmental psychology, marketing and community health. The research is funded by the Department of Defence via the Irish Government’s Shared Island Initiative.
What is the future of marine spatial planning? Will marine plans continue to rely on zoning as a primary means for coordinating the spatial distribution of human activities at sea? Will marine protected areas continue to work with fixed and static boundaries? Multiple-use and co-location are increasingly viewed as core principles for the efficient use of marine space and actively supported both at European level and through multiple funded research and pilot projects . To take one example, the long-term vision of the 2019 Belgian marine spatial plan states that “in the future, the principle of multiple-use of space will be the norm for all use of space within the Belgian North Sea”.