In January 2023, researchers Alessandra Arcuri and Abdurrahman Erol from Erasmus School of Law concluded that a ban on the emission of toxic and carcinogenic fumes by inland vessels in the Netherlands is not only possible but likely mandatory. Initially, the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, Mark Harbers, responded to the report titled 'Floating Degassing in the Netherlands: Rights and Obligations under International Law' by stating that the Netherlands couldn't simply proceed with a degassing ban. However, the minister now seems to be reversing his position and intends to implement the ban in 2024.
The announcement of the ban has been warmly received by the inland shipping industry. Daily, in order to clean the tanks for a new cargo, skippers of inland vessels release toxic fumes from their tanks after delivering oil or chemical products to customers, for instance, on the Markermeer or the IJsselmeer. During this degassing process, crew members are at risk of experiencing headaches, fever, and red eyes. The gasses are carcinogenic, affect blood cells, and can be harmful to fertility.
For a long time, multiple Ministers of Infrastructure and Water Management believed that the Netherlands could not enforce a degassing ban because Switzerland and France have not ratified the so-called degassing treaty. Several international treaties would hinder the early implementation of a Dutch ban if not all treaty countries have approved the treaty text. Arcuri and Erol investigated this claim on behalf of Omroep Flevoland and came to a different conclusion.
In January, Arcuri shared their research findings with the broadcaster, stating: “We have consulted many legal sources. Truly, we have read thousands of pages, and we could not find anything that could block a national ban. However, looking at human rights treaties, the Netherlands likely has to ban it because the health of inhabitants is at stake and the environment is being harmed.”
Contribution to the ban
Arcuri and Erol are pleased with the minister's decision: "The ban on floating degassing is an important development to realize the human rights to a healthy environment in the Netherlands. We are glad to see how our Report has helped to achieve this outcome.” However, they remain cautious: "Of course, it remains to be seen whether corporations and particularly charters will act so as to fully respect the ban and as engaged researchers we will keep following this file."