Thursday, February 18, 2000

Gard P&I plans management cooperation with hull and machinery insurer
France is starting to spell out the details of its proposals for a thoroughgoing overhaul of the international tanker safety and pollution prevention regime, following the Erika disaster. They include an extended notification requirement for tankers, an acceleration of the MARPOL phase out of single hulled tankers, upping the limit of the FIPOL fund to $1 billion -- and much, much more.

As we've already noted, the French Minister of Transport, Jean-Claude Gayssott, last week brought together the principal French players involved in marine transportation of petroleum products and had them sign off on a charter. (Click here for more details)

Earlier this week, on February 15, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin held a ministerial level meeting at which he gave details of proposals that France will be putting to its EU partners and which it will press the EU to place before IMO.

The following day, February 16, further details of some of these proposals were filled in by Minister of Transportation Jean-Claude Gayssot.

Let's look at the proposals outlined by the Prime Minister. What follows is a summary and a paraphrase. If you want the whole thing in French, click here. There's a link on that page that will point you towards a source for a free "mechanical translation." For the French text of Mr Gayssot's proposals of February 16, click here

Mr. Jospin noted that France was taking steps that including doubling, within two years, its force of shipping safety inspectors. But he made the point that the problems illustrated by the Erika spill were of both a world--and a European--dimension. More than twenty years after the Amoco Cadiz catastrophe, the insufficiencies of the regulatory, port state control and vessel surveillance systems were apparent. He called for a "international, global and concerted" responses to a situation resulting from an explosive growth in vessel traffic and "the dangers of a system which, in its quest for profit, leads certainly to the neglect of safety."

He identified IMO as the proper venue at which to define a new regulatory regime taking better account of these economic realities.

France would invite its European partners to take strong initiatives to the heart of IMO --and it was at the heart of the European Union that France would first take its effort for rapid adoption and implementation of tougher regulations.

Mr. Jospin declared that the French proposals had three priorities;

  • prevention
  • control
  • holding responsible

Prevention involves keeping dangerous ships away from European coasts. That presupposes a stricter system of surveillance and France will ask that all ships carrying polluting or dangerous cargo that enter the territorial waters of an EU state be required to notify their presence and furnish very detailed information. France will also ask its European partners to put in place an administrative system--under current international maritime law it can only be voluntary--that will require similar notification by ships entering the EU 200 nautical mile zone. In the English Channel, France will ask IMO impose a requirement on all ships, including those transiting international waters, to notify their presence to the Casquins surveillance center.

Ships carrying dangerous cargoes must no longer enter European ports without prior authorization. Flag state controls are of uneven quality. It is often only during port state inspections that a ship's problems come to light. By then, the vessel has already had time to transit coastlines and put them in danger. France will propose that all ships carrying dangerous cargoes destined for a European port submit a detailed dossier to that port's authorities before arriving. (Among the elements covered by the dossier will be the crew's working conditions). Entry to the port may be refused on the basis of the dossier. Once at the quay, the ship will be subject to a thorough inspection before any loading or discharge operations.

Control: "We wish" says Jospin, "to toughen the safety regulations and better assure their application."

France will propose that single hull tankers be banned from European Union ports by 2008, rather than 2019 as provided by the MARPOL convention, with the largest single hulled tankers being banned by 2005.

France is also concerned with onboard working conditions, since these also affect the ship's safety. France wants the European Commission to rapidly prepare proposals for harmonizing requirements for crew conditions and will urge International Labor Organization member states to rapidly ratify the three ILO conventions. It will propose reinforcing inspection of shipboard labor conditions in Europe and harmonization of controls.

France wants to increase the frequency and rigor of European port state control inspections, in particular for ships of 15 years and older rather than the present 20 years. These inspections must focus in particular on the ship's structural condition. France will propose that IMO impose a requirement on flag states for more regular inspections in dry dock.

"It is necessary to also better control the controllers," according to Jospin. France wants Europe to put into place a system of controlling flag state, port state and classification society inspectors to ensure uniform application of rules and procedures throughout the EU. France also wants IMO to have a real capacity to supervise controls, so that it can see that all its member states fulfil their obligations. Technical cooperation programs must be used to accomplish this, if necessary.

Mr Jospin also noted in this context that President Chirac had notified his intention of using the upcoming G8 summit to call for a joint fight against "flags of complacency."

Responsibility: All participants in the maritime transport sector must fully accept their responsibilities. That presupposes more transparency. France is proposing greater use of the EQUASIS data bank, which becomes operational in May. France wants it to be obligatory to provide EQUASIS with data from port state, flag state and classification society controls. France wants this obligation to extend to states that are candidates for EU membership. It will ask IMO to support EQUASIS and invite its members to participate,

Jospin says that the quality of controls effected by classification societies must be incontestable and the solvency of ships' insurers must be verified. France wants a European system to be put in place for agreeing the acceptability of both classification society controls and insurer solvency.

France also wants the limits of the FIPOL fund raised to 1 billion euros [which, these days, is probably about the same as $1 billion!]. It wants FIPOL contributions to take account of the condition of the ship and not just its deadweight. And it says that "the responsibility of the owner of the cargomust also be recognized."

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