Bonn Agreement study to reduce risk of marine pollution in the North Sea


An international risk assessment of marine pollution has been carried out for the North Sea. The findings from the study, which is the first of its kind, will help prevent pollution by allowing North Sea states to better focus their resources in high-risk areas.

The Greater North Sea is one of the busiest and most used areas of maritime activity in the world. As the number of vessels within the area increases, so too does the risk of accidents resulting in marine pollution. In the past, risk was mapped by a variety of national risk assessments undertaking different methodologies, which could reduce comparability.

The BE-AWARE project provided an advanced and innovative regional oil spill risk assessment for the North Sea using common methodology that allows the mapping of risk together with an extensive mapping of vital marine biological and socio-economic features in the area, ranked according to their vulnerability to oil exposure. Risk and vulnerability are compared under different scenarios, taking various approaches to reducing the risk of pollution from the area's maritime activity.

The outcome is a tool which condenses big amounts of data and information, allowing administrators and authorities to make cost-effective decisions to reduce the risk of accidents and pollution. A specific strength of the study is that the applied methods have been agreed by all nine North Sea states: Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands and United Kingdom.

COWI's approach is unique, since it applies a full-scale quantitative approach with a multitude of possible scenarios. The method comprises a quantitative description of the relevant processes for each step of the analysis, and this makes it an integrated risk assessment in the true sense of the word.

The BE-AWARE project was co-financed by the European Union (DG ECHO) and completed in November 2015. A trend analysis was then conducted in 2019 to validate the original risk forecast, widen the scope to include the Bay of Biscay and provide an outlook until 2030.


The North Sea


BE-AWARE I: 2012-2014

BE-AWARE II: 2014-2015

BE-AWARE trend analysis: 2019

Bonn Agreement Secretariat


  • Ship traffic model

  • Ship accident and oil release model

  • Fate model (spreading, decay and dispersion of oil)

  • Environmental vulnerability mapping

  • Mapping of the risk for environmental damage

  • Ranking an array of possible prevention and response measures in terms of benefit (reduced environmental damage) and costs

Get in contact

Albrecht Lentz
Head of Section
Risk Analysis, Denmark

Tel: +45 4176 2355