The European Commission proposed to set up a European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) in the aftermath of the "Erika" accident. Regulation 1406/2002, establishing this Agency, was adopted by the European Parliament and the Council on 27 June 2002 and entered into force in August of the same year. EMSA provides technical and scientific assistance to the European Commission in the fields of maritime safety, maritime security, prevention of pollution and response to pollution caused by ships. Its assistance is particularly relevant in the continuous process of updating and developing new legislation, monitoring its implementation and evaluating the effectiveness of the measures in place. In order to monitor the implementation of the Community acquis, the specialised staff of the Agency carry out inspections in Member States and, in specific areas, in third countries. Such inspections started in 2004 and intensified over the last years.
The Agency also has the task of assisting Member States with the practical implementation of EU legislation, organising appropriate training activities and promoting a dissemination of best practices in the EU. Furthermore, with the entry into force of Regulation 724/2004 it has to assist Member States affected by pollution caused by ships, upon request, with antipollution means (specialised ships and equipment). In fact, in the aftermath of the "Prestige" accident in November 2002, it became obvious that additional measures had to be taken on a European level not only with regard to the prevention of pollution by ships, but also with regard to the response to such pollution. In October 2004 EMSA adopted a pollution response plan in order to initiate actions in line with its new task. The European Commission proposed a financial package of €154 million over a period of seven years (2007-2013) to allow EMSA to finance this specific task on a multi-annual basis and to combat pollution caused by ships in a more efficient way (see Regulation 2038/2006). The funds enable the Agency to make specialised anti-pollution vessels available to Member States to recover pollutants and develop satellite images to detect pollution in good time (CleanSeaNet).
Key areas where EMSA has already made valuable contributions are the monitoring of classification societies, port state control and the development of ship reporting systems in Member States. Furthermore, EMSA operates the SafeSeaNet project, a pan-European electronic information system dealing with ship movements and cargoes. In addition to the above, the intensification of control visits in Member States, the cross fertilisation of databases and the monitoring of seafarers' training and certification systems in third countries are among the main challenges of EMSA for the next years.
Following an initiative in the International Maritime Organization regarding the long range identification and tracking of vessels (LRIT), the EU Member States decided in 2007 to set up an EU LRIT data centre managed by the European Commission, in cooperation with Member States, through EMSA.
On 28 October 2010, the European Commission proposed to update the EMSA Regulation to adapt its tasks following the entry into force of the third maritime safety package and to reinforce cooperation with neighbouring countries (see COM(2010)611).
Since 2006, EMSA has been based in Lisbon.