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Maritime transport & Cables and pipelines

This page provides basic information on the combination between maritime transport and cables and pipelines, and will be further populated as more information becomes available. 

The interactions between these two sectors are very limited. Hazardous interactions are hypothetical but could lead to significant hazards for the environment, for example in the case of an anchor being dropped, or catching on a pipeline, leading to leakage of potentially harmful substances into the ocean. 

Preventive solutions, such as mapping out existing cable routes, requiring cable and pipeline companies to use appropriate burial methods or encouraging the use of cable detection software can be implemented to avoid any accident/damage. For more insights on related challenges and enablers to the co-existence of maritime transport and cables and pipelines you can also view the Fisheries & Cables and pipelines page.  


Cables and pipelines

Across all sea basins, countries are connected by numerous submarine cables such as telecommunication cables that carry digital data, electrical cables that carry energy, and pipelines that transport oil or gas.

Most cables are buried beneath the seabed or are protected externally. However, some cables remain partially or totally unburied and lie on the surface of the sea floor. Pipelines are fixed and laid in protected trenches. 

Cables and pipelines are strategic elements for the functioning of the globalized economy as they connect countries and continents and transport key flows. Disruption of their functioning could result in severe financial damage and impact key sectors. For pipelines the effects can be even more serious, as damage to pipelines can also cause serious environmental impacts. 

Pipelines are mainly owned by private oil and gas companies, while telecom cables are owned by public limited companies and electricity cables by Transmission System Operators (TSOs). International key players are The European Subsea Cables Association [1] and the International Cable Protection Committee (ICPC) [2].

Maritime transport

Maritime transport includes shipment of goods and transport of passengers by sea. It remains the backbone of international trade, with the EU being one of the most important exporters and exporters worldwide.

In terms of infrastructure, maritime transport not only requires seagoing vessels, but also ports as central logistics hubs, rendering the sector intimately connected to land-based infrastructure and relying on a complex web of land-sea logistics chains. The governance of the sector is also split between leading global shipowners (MSC, MAERSK, CMA-CGM) and smaller competitors. 

Ship routing systems have been established by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in congested shipping areas of the world for safety reasons. To minimize potential environmental impacts of shipping, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from ships aims at minimizing pollution of the oceans and seas. In addition, maritime transport is expected to meet increasing sustainable performance criteria linked to key Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and notably SDG 14.

Maritime transport is a well-established sector, with a post-covid increasing demand for goods but also in vessel size and number. This growth puts increasing pressure on the marine environment and can often put important ecosystems at risk, notably through greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, underwater noise, oil pollution, and the introduction of non-indigenous species [3].

For more information about EU blue economy sectors please visit the EU Blue Economy Observatory website. 

For more European statistics and data you can also visit the Eurostat website


Existing co-existence and multi-use initiatives