Abiding by the rules? A sequential mixed-methods study on the determinants of regulatory compliance with maritime environmental legislation

Thea Freese, Michael Gille, John Struthers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
129 Downloads (Pure)


Increased political measures to protect the marine environment addresses a shipping industry characterised by strained financial resources, excess supply of capacity and consolidation. In addition, 5-15 per cent of industry participants are believed by shipping experts to neglect rules on vessel-source pollution to stay competitive within their industry and vis-à-vis other transport modes. This study aims to identify and quantify cost effects of maritime environmental legislation, to relate these with company characteristics and to investigate the impact of regulatory compliance.

A mixed-methods design was used to develop both a theoretical model of compliance costs effects and to quantify effect sizes. In total, 12 in-depth exploratory expert interviews were conducted and analysed. A theoretical framework emerged, which was evaluated, strengthened and fed with quantitative data from questionnaire data by 120 shipping companies. Partial least squares analysis was conducted to determine compliance cost effects.

It was found that organisational capacities played a significant role in determining compliance behaviour. Exterior determinants showed no significant correlation with legal compliance. This is a striking result, as it does not support achieving legal compliance with measures of strong enforcement.

Social implications
European transport policy-making depends on scientifically sound studies on the impact of policy. An in-depth impact assessment on environmental legislation for the maritime industry highlights mechanisms applicable to environmental policy-making in transport and helps in building policy that considers compliance concerns, company characteristics and the interconnectedness of different transport modes for a sound response to the tragedy of the commons.

Originality lies in the inductive development of a comprehensive theory on shipping companies’ legal compliance behaviour and the empirical testing of this theory. Further value is derived from applying a sequential mixed-methods approach to the research problem, showing both the worth and challenge in combining different methodologies to achieve sound research results.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-48
Number of pages18
JournalMaritime Business Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2019


  • Regulatory compliance
  • Marine environmental protection
  • Mixed-methods research
  • Compliance costs
  • Clean vessel operations
  • North and Baltic sea shipping


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