News

Seagrass Anchoring Violations Mounting in French Waters

17 August 2021By Lauren Beck
Getty Images

Written by

Lauren Beck

Editor Lauren Beck has been with Dockwalk since 2006. At 13, she left South Africa aboard a 34-foot sailing boat with her family and ended up in St. Maarten for six years. Before college, she worked as crew for a year, and then cut her journalistic teeth at Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies’ Home Journal online. She loves traveling, reading, tennis, and rooting for the Boston Red Sox. Email her at lauren@dockwalk.com.

The European Committee for Professional Yachting (ECPY) has been working with the French Prefecture Maritime (PREMAR) to iron out issues and confusion over Posidonia anchoring regulations in French waters, which went into effect in October 2020. The Professional Yachting Association (PYA) is also involved in the effort, which it notes has restricted mooring on the French Riviera.

The regulations are an effort to protect the seagrass in the region, which reportedly covers about 25 percent of the seabed. Healthy seagrass promotes biodiversity, produces oxygen, and prevents coastal erosion.

The decree prohibits anchoring outside designated zones for vessels larger than 24 meters. Larger vessels — those larger than 45 meters or 300GT — must declare their intentions to anchor in these zones and those bigger than 80 meters need permission to anchor in those areas, ECPY President Thierry Voisin told Dockwalk in October.

The regulations are an effort to protect the seagrass in the region, which reportedly covers about 25 percent of the seabed. Healthy seagrass promotes biodiversity, produces oxygen, and prevents coastal erosion.

It has not been smooth sailing since the decree went into effect. As PYA CEO Christophe Bourillon explains, while everyone agrees that the intention behind the regulation is a positive thing for the environment, the implementation of the new decree has been confusing.

“The way this Posidonia seagrass regulation was done was very French,” Bourillon says. “First, they just came out with a blanket regulation saying you can’t anchor there. Secondly, they made it more complex in the sense that they brought in a single piece of law, what they call an Arrêté, almost per bay or location. Thirdly, in the six-page Arrêtés for each bay, they gave plenty of GPS unit coordinates and stuff like that, but not a very detailed map.” Bourillon notes two additional issues, as well — the regulations went out without consideration of potential alternative solutions to the Posidonia issue, and the official charts were not updated with the new anchoring restrictions.

This obviously leaves room for much confusion and some captains don’t want to risk it — and with a possible infringement fine of €150,000, that’s understandable. “That piece of legislation is not just a little environmental law infringement,” Bourillon says. “It goes higher than that. So the full responsibility and the ticket of the captain is in play.”

ECPY sent out a note about the uptick of violations — between July 6–20, 2021, ECPY was notified of 58 vessels with one-time violations and 11 vessels with multiple violations.

“This situation is alarming and shows that in less than two weeks, an abnormal number of infractions have taken place in French waters,” Voisin wrote in a July 23 ECPY newsletter. “There is a real risk that these infractions will be transformed into a report with a fine. This would be a very bad thing for the yachting industry.”

In addition to the violations, it was also noted in the same newsletter that the vessels involved in these infractions were not “systematically responding” to VHF calls. Voisin cautions that a VHF watch is “statutory and mandatory.” The PYA reported that only three VHF calls from the authorities were answered by the repeat offenders and none of the vessels moved.

“There is a real risk that these infractions will be transformed into a report with a fine. This would be a very bad thing for the yachting industry.”

The PYA also shared an update about prosecutions. “[On July 23,] the PREMAR reported to us that two repeat-repeat offender yachts are likely to be prosecuted,” an update on the PYA site said, with one vessel being a Cayman-flagged vessel and other a UK vessel. “In addition to a €150,000 fine, yachts could be banned from French waters,” the note stated.

Bourillon advises yachts to call the authorities if they have any questions or are uncertain of the area’s restrictions. “They should not just rely on the texts of the official regulation, which are very difficult to understand,” he advises. He also recommends a French app called Donia, which publishes maps that show the seagrass areas. “This one is actually well done, but when in doubt, call, make contact with the local authorities,” he says.

As for whether the Arrêtés may change, he’s not sure. “Well, France being France, the law can change anytime,” he says. “However, the driving ministry behind that is the Ministry of the Environment and the economic importance of yachting in the Med is not well-known to them.” Bourillon says that PREMAR is working with the PYA and others to find alternatives, as he stresses that they would prefer to find better solutions than sanctions.

There is another meeting set with PREMAR for early September, so check back for updates.

More from Dockwalk