Prosecuting Marine Polluters

Transport Canada investigates all reported incidents of ship-source marine pollution. Whenever there is sufficient evidence, Transport Canada will recommend prosecution of marine polluters under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 or the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act. For less serious offences, Administrative Monetary Penalties can be assessed.

Transport Canada has been instrumental in developing the necessary jurisprudence to successfully prosecute marine polluters based on video and photographic evidence, aircrew statements and expert testimony on the evidence collected. As a result, Transport Canada investigations have led to numerous successful prosecutions against marine polluters. Since fiscal year 2003-2004, evidence gathered by the National Aerial Surveillance Program (NASP) has led to 34 charges resulting from 29 incidents. Approximately $1.86 million in penalties were imposed following successful prosecutions.

Over the last number of years, Transport Canada has been seeking higher fines from the courts as an additional deterrent for would-be polluters. Prior to 2002, the maximum fine imposed by Canadian courts was $75,000. Fines generally ranged between $25,000 and $40,000 for offshore incidents. The court now imposes fines of $70,000 and more for offshore offences. There have been a number of penalties of $100,000 or more over the last several years, including a precedent-setting fine of $170,000.

If required to conduct an investigation, and depending on the specific circumstances, Transport Canada may redirect any foreign vessel suspected of having illegally discharged oil in the marine environment to a Canadian port. As standard procedure, Transport Canada will request that a foreign vessel suspected of ship-source marine pollution, but not redirected, provide a Letter of Undertaking before being allowed to leave waters under Canadian jurisdiction. This Letter of Undertaking provides a financial guarantee to cover any fines or penalties that could be imposed by Canadian courts should the operators of the vessel be found guilty. During an investigation, Transport Canada will cooperate with international marine authorities to collect evidence on a suspect vessel.

Transport Canada works with other national and international partners to develop better tools for investigating ship-source marine pollution incidents. Transport Canada, through the International Maritime Organization, is also promoting the implementation of the Automatic Identification System (AIS). AIS is an information network that allows near real-time monitoring of vessel traffic – through Global Positioning Systems (GPS), marine radio, satellites and computer systems. While primarily designed to assist in collision avoidance, and as a surveillance system for safety and security purposes, Transport Canada investigators use the system to identify specific vessels by examining their positional information to ascertain if they were in the area of an illegal discharge that was detected through another means.

January 2014

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