General presentation of the strait
The Strait of Bonifacio is an international strait separating Sardinia from Corsica; it enables communication between the Sea of Sardinia and the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is governed by the legal "right of unimpeded transit passage", although the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) designated a particularly sensitive sea area (PSSA) covering the strait and adjacent areas. The MEPC agreed to designate the Strait of Bonifacio as a PSSA, following its approval in principle at the last session, and consideration of associated protective measures by the Sub-Committee on Safety of Navigation (NAV) in June 2011.
Description of the Strait
The Strait of Bonifacio, that takes its name from the town of Bonifacio, the southernmost town of Corsica, has a maximum depth of 89 metres and separates the Italian island of Sardinia from the French island of Corsica, only 11 kilometres far from each other. The Strait enables passage from the Sea of Sardinia in the west to the Tyrrhenian Sea in the east and is a sensitive area for navigation. At its eastern end lies the Italian Archipelago of La Maddalena, and Cavallo Island and the Lavezzi Islands, belonging to France; in the northern part of the strait, ships have to avoid the reefs of Sperduto and the Lavezzi Islands, while in the south are situated the Sardinian islands of Razzoli and La Presa. Navigation is possible along a narrow three-mile wide stretch and ships are asked to take a recommended route just over one mile wide.
Since the Strait of Bonifacio is one of the most outstanding zones in the Mediterranean in terms of biodiversity, France and Italy have adopted a restrictive approach to navigation, in the sense that French or Italian ships carrying dangerous goods are banned from all transit of the Strait of Bonifacio. The Italian Merchant Marine decree of 26 February 1993, applicable to Italian ships only, forbids tankers carrying petroleum products or ships carrying dangerous or toxic substances to use the Strait of Bonifacio. Decree No. 84/98 of 3 November 1998, as amended by decree No. 56/2003, issued by the French maritime prefect for the Mediterranean, regulates navigation in the Strait of Bonifacio with a view to preventing accidental marine pollution. It establishes precautionary areas at the periphery of a two-way recommended route and a mandatory reporting system. Lastly, a Franco-Italian agreement on operational procedures for the ship reporting system in the Strait of Bonifacio (Bonifacio Trafic VTS (vessel traffic services)) was signed in Rome on 3 June 1999.
Cross-boundary cooperation in the Strait
Since 2000, the public bodies located on the Strait of Bonifacio have received European funding (past INTERREG Programmes Italy-France "Islands" and Italy-France "Maritime" 2007-2013) to implement joint projects to support economic development, environmental protection, cultural promotion and transport. The Environment Office of Corsica & the National Park of La Maddalena Archipelago, whose cross-boundary cooperation dates back right to 2000, are actually working on the setting up of a European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC) in order to promote joint management and protection of both natural and cultural wealth, but also to prevent natural and technological risks. The final signature of this organization called “EGTC - PMIBB” seems to be imminent: the EGTC will be a structure under Italian law. Moreover, its head office will be located in La Maddalena, more precisely in Spargi Island, whereas its scientific and technical base will be situated in Lavezzi Islands, Bonifacio. The project is currently 75 % funded by the P.O. Maritime France-Italy 2007-2013 programme and other national, regional, and departmental counterparts.
Main environmental challenges of the strait
The Strait is also covered by the Pelagos Agreement for the Creation of a Mediterranean Sanctuary for Marine Mammals, signed in Rome on 25 November 1999 by France, Italy and the Principality of Monaco. Due to its priceless environmental heritage, in the north-eastern side of the Strait of Bonifacio two protected areas – the Natural reserve of the Strait of Bonifacio and the National Park of La Maddalena Archipelago – were instituted in the 1990’s.
Significant problems such as the trade traffic in the strait of Bonifacio and the risks of damaging the biological balance of the area in case of accident are now reinforced thanks to the creation of the EGTC-PMIBB.
The south of Corsica is featured by the presence of 4 EU Directive Natura 2000 marine sites and the Archipelago of La Maddalena is almost entirely a SCI/SPZ. Considering both the Natural reserve of the Strait of Bonifacio and the Sardinian protected area, recent studies highlighted the presence of more than 15 marine habitats as defined in this Directive, thus demonstrating the high marine biodiversity of this area and its sensitivity to human impacts.
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