The containers lost from a vessel sailing up the coast of the North West of Spain a few months ago have started to release their hazardous contents.

Billions of nurdles, the raw material for plastic production, started to appear in the North Western Atlantic Coast of Spain. Tide and wind-driven movement of these releases have now spread the nurdle pollution along the Northern Bay of Biscay coast of Spain. In all 250 km of beaches and coastlines have been impacted. Worryingly we are only at the start of the incident.

As ever in these incidents it is not clear who is liable so the question of who pays has come to the fore. Regional Government is pushing the National Government to pay for the cleanup saying that as the source of the loss is not known it is a failure in National Government surveillance. In the meantime, the affected Spanish regions are implementing the best response they can. The autonomous Basque region has triggered its ISASERZA contingency plan should these nurdles reach their regions that have so far not been impacted. In Asturias and Galicia, a mix of volunteers state employees and subcontractors are working together to manage the impact.

This has put pressure on EU lawmakers who are aware that 176,000 tons of these pellets are released into the seas each year. Joao Albuquerque, the EU Parliament’s lead negotiator on the new law, on Thursday, said he had proposed expanding the requirements for companies to prevent spills to also include the shipping sector – particularly after the incident in Galicia

“This has become extremely urgent. These dramas are almost always avoidable,” Albuquerque told an EU Parliament committee meeting.

His proposal would also expand the law to cover not only pellets but the plastic flakes, powders and dust used to manufacture products.

The Parliament is racing to agree on its negotiating position, to give talks with EU countries to finish the law a chance of concluding before the EU elections in June.

The European Commission said its original proposal for the law omitted maritime transport because environmental issues in international shipping are handled by the International Maritime Organization. It suggested, however, that the law could be strengthened to at least cover plastic pollution from journeys within the EU.

More details: here.