Members of the Maritime Institute are specialized in law of the sea (shipping, piracy, pollution, coastal state jurisdiction, port state jurisdiction, flag state jurisdiction, exploitation of natural resources, coastal zone management, offshore renewable energy, marine protected areas, ...), protection of oceans and seas, international and European environmental and biodiversity law, port economics and port policy, maritime economics, marine spatial planning, as well as interdisciplinary research.


Members of the Maritime Institute have been involved in strategic legal research and the drafting of legislation supported by the Federal and Flemish government, such as the explanatory memorandum to the law on the Belgian exclusive economic zone in the North Sea (1998), the law on the protection of the marine environment in areas under Belgian jurisdiction (1998-1999) and implementing Royal decrees (1999), development of regulations to protect the marine environment in Latvia (1999-2000), the decree on integral water policy implementing the EU Water Framework Directive (2000-2003) and supplemented by other decrees (2004), legislation on shipping in Belgian internal waters (2004).

Examples of policy relevant legal research are:

  • substitution of dangerous substances in Flanders (1999-2000);
  • the implementation of OSPAR measures in Flanders (1999-2000);
  • emissions trading (2001-2006: support action for environmental policy);
  • integrated coastal zone management in Belgium/Flanders (2002);
  • waste production of Belgian sea-going fishery vessels (2003);
  • screening of the benefits and drawbacks concerning the parameters for the inclusion of maritime transport in CO2-emission trading systems and the uniform CO2-index for Belgian vessels (2008-2009);
  • evolutions concerning the exercise of jurisdiction in the exclusive economic zone (2008-2011);
  • analysis of the decision making process of the designation of Marine Protected Areas in Belgium (2005-2008);
  • legal support for the designation of marine protected areas in the Belgian part of the North Sea: implementation of European and international legislation (2011-2012);
  • legal and policy advice regarding recreational shipping and its surrounding environment (2012);
  • Fitness Check (FC) on the evaluation of passenger ship safety legislation (2014-2015);
  • legal basis for the management of a transboundary nature park of the dunes between Dunkerque (France) and Westende (Belgium) (ongoing).

Other legal research is dedicated to a broader public, such as an inventory of legislation applicable in the coastal zone (1999), the Codex coastal zone legislation (2003-2007) and contribution to the Compendium for Coast & Sea (VLIZ, 2013, 2015).

Besides aforementioned research, the main research objectives are in the realm of academic research (see publications) and PhD research, such as:

  • Gwendoline Gonsaeles: EU competence in decision-making, implementation and enforcement of international maritime regulations (2009);
  • Nengye Liu:  The prevention of vessel-source pollution. A comparative study between European and Chinese Law (2012);
  • Nils Goeteyn: Decision-making, compliance and international environmental governance: a legal analysis (2012);
  • Jasmine Coppens: Migrants at sea. A legal analysis of a maritime safety and security problems (2013);
  • Qin He: Combating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing: A comparative study (2014);
  • Miao He: A human rights-based approach to conserve protected areas in China: Lessons from Europe (2014);
  • Ping Chen: A comparative legal study of emissions trading systems in the EU and in China (2014);
  • Klaas Willaert: Moderne piraterij: de bestrijdingsstrategieën, het juridisch kader en de vervolging en bestraffing in de Golf van Guinee en rond de Hoorn van Afrika (Modern piracy in Africa) (2018);
  • Thary Derudder: Protection of underwater cultural heritage in the North sea (2019);
  • Robert MakGill: Sustainable Management of the Sea: Identifying a Body of Sustainable Management Jurisprudence of Law of the Sea and New Zealand State Practice (2019);

  • Anemoon Soete: Public international legal status of inhabitants of island States which have become fully submerged due to climate change effects (2020);

  • Yang Liu: An Integrated Protection and Preservation of Ecosystems of International Watercourses (2020).


Present PhD research focuses on:

  • How to build and implement an effective and efficient legal system to combat violence (maritime terrorism, piracy, drugs) at sea? (by Ilja Van Hespen);
  • Environmental aspects of deep seabed mining in the Area (by Laura Lallier);
  • The international legal personality of island states permanently submerged due to climate change effects (Anemoon Soete);
  • Protection of Transboundary Watercourses under International Biodiversity Law (Yang Liu).

Multi- and interdisciplinary research

The Maritime Institute is member of the Cluster of excellence Marine@UGent . Multi- and interdisciplinary research is based on project funding from various sources, such as Belgian Science Policy, Federal and Flemish research projects, EU funded research, … , in which the Maritime Institute participates as a partner, or acted alone. Important projects are:

  • MARE-DASM (MArine REsources Damage Assessment and Sustainable Management of the North Sea – (BELSPO, 1998 – 2002);
  • ECOWARE: Ecology Clusters for Overall Waste Re-engineering in Flemish Sea¬ports (1998 - 2000);
  • Life-Environment Program European Commission (1998 - 1999);
  • Elaboration and Implementation of a National Chemical Spill Contingency Plan for Latvia (NCSCP) (2002-2004);
  • Balancing human activities in the North Sea (BALANS) (BELSPO, 2002-2006);
  • Towards a Spatial Structure Plan for Sustainable Management of the Sea (GAUFRE) (BELSPO, 2003-2005). This project resulted in a PhD on Marine Spatial Planning by Fanny Douvere (2010); Ecological Debt (VLIR-BVO, 2003-2004);
  • Waste generation by Belgian fishery vessels, Administration of Agriculture and the Ship-owners Federation (2003);
  • Emissions of CO2, SO2 and NOx from ships (ECOSONOS) (BELSPO, 2004-2007);
  • Risk Analysis of Marine Activities in the Belgian part of the North Sea (RAMA)(BELSPO, 2004-2006);
  • Cluster SUstainable MAnagement NOrth Sea (SUMANOS) (BELSPO, 2004-2006);
  • Marine Incidents Management Cluster (MIMAC)(BELSPO, 2004-2006);
  • COastal REsearch and POlicy INtegration (COREPOINT) (INTERREG IIIB North-West Europe, 2004 - 2008);
  • Evaluation of climate change impacts and adaptation responses for marine activities (CLIMAR) (BELSPO, 2007 –2010);
  • Innovative Management for Europe’s Changing Coastal Resource (IMCORE), (INTERREG IVB North West Europe, 2008 – 2011);
  • An ecosystem approach in sustainable fisheries management by local ecological knowledge (LECOFISH) (BELSPO, 2009 –2011);
  • Monitoring and Evaluation of Spatially Managed Areas (MESMA)  (EU - FP 7, 2009-2013);
  • Marie Currie Grant – People – IEP on Transboundary Maritime Spatial Planning” (TransMasp)(2010-2012);
  • MASPNOSE - Preparatory Action on Maritime Spatial Planning in the North Sea, - EU DG Mare (2010 – 2012);
  • Archeological Heritage in the North Sea. Development of an efficient assessment methodology and approach towards a sustainable management policy and legal framework in Belgium (SeArch) (IWT-SBO, 2012 –2016);
  • Legal certainty on environmental aspects of deep seabed mining in the Area - IWT-Baekeland (2014-2018);
  • COST Action “Ocean Governance for Sustainability – challenges, options and the role of science (OceanGov – CA 15217) (2016-2019).

Marine spatial planning (GAUFRE, A Flood of Space (2005)) was introduced worldwide at international conferences and workshops. This research has influenced new visions on ocean governance that have been taken over by UNESCO (see, EU, ICES, HELCOM, CBD and UNEP.

Port and shipping economics

The research activities of the Maritime Institute also cover various topics in the field of port and shipping economics. The Maritime Institute develops and applies a broad array of qualitative and quantitative techniques in strategic market analysis, policy formulation and network optimization. In particular, port and maritime economic research addresses the following themes:

  • Port development with a focus on port (master) planning, port project evaluation, stakeholder relations management, institutional analysis and ports’ resilience and adaptive capacity.
  • Port governance and management, with an emphasis on concessions agreements, port co-operation and port reform.
  • Port performance and efficiency measurement of port/terminal operations and related benchmarking techniques.
  • Optimization of liner shipping networks, hinterland transport networks and intra-port transport systems.
  • Spatial-economic analysis of the interaction between seaports and inland ports.
  • The organization and management of dock work.
  • Vertical and horizontal co-operation and logistics integration in ports and shipping.
  • Market analysis (e.g. LNG market, container market, breakbulk market, cruise shipping, cold chain logistics)

The Maritime Institute actively pursues research funding for the above research themes and welcomes PhD research on the above themes, while publishing in peer reviewed international academic journals and books.