October 10, 2003

EU transport ministers debate security, criminal sanctions for pollution

Maritime matters--notably security and pollution--were front and center on the agenda at yesterday's Council meeting of EU Transportation, Telecommunications and Energy ministers.

On the issue of ship and port security, the Council agreed on a general approach, pending the European Parliament's first reading, on the proposal for a Regulation aimed at enhancing security on board ships and in ship/port interface areas. The Council also asked the Presidency to contact with the European Parliament with the aim of reaching an agreement on first reading in the co-decision procedure, enabling rapid adoption of the legislative proposal.

Under the text agreed by the Council, so far as international shipping is concerned, EU Member States shall apply in full the security measures agreed in IMO in December 2002. Certain measures in part B of the ISPS Code that are optional under IMO level are mandatory in Community legislation.

Where European domestic shipping is concerned, it was agreed to apply the same security measures adopted at IMO to Class A passenger ships [a passenger ship engaged on domestic voyages in the course of which it is further than 20 miles from the coast or in sea areas where the probability of exceeding 2.5 m significant wave height is greater than 10 percent].

For other categories of ships operating domestic services, it was agreed that Member States are obliged to carry out a security risk assessment after which they will decide the extent to which they apply security measures without compromising the overall level of security.

SHIP-SOURCE POLLUTION AND SANCTIONS FOR POLLUTION OFFENSES

The Council held a policy debate on the proposal for a Directive on ship source pollution and on the introduction of sanctions, including criminal sanctions, for pollution of the marine environment.

The Presidency concluded that:

All delegations supported the objective of the Commission proposal to integrate the international rules on ship-source pollution into Community law by means of a Directive and to adopt a legal instrument which is as dissuasive as possible,

Concerns were expressed by delegations as to the legal correctness of using a Community instrument specifically mentioning penal sanctions. Criminal aspects were deemed more appropriate, to be confined to a Framework Decision based on the Third Pillar of the European Union Treaty,

Doubts were also expressed on the possibilities of implementing the Directive if it goes beyond the provisions of MARPOL, for instance for ships flying the flag of a third State and which do not call at a port of a Member State

The principle of being able to act against ships, even under the flag of a third State, was however clearly stated, in particular if the pollution damage reaches the coasts or territorial waters of Member States

A majority of delegations favoured the prohibition, to ensure monetary penalties related to pollution offenses, as is in fact already the case in several Member States. 3 Marpol 73/78 is the International Convention for the prevention of pollution from ships (1973) and its 1978 Protocol, as amended.

The Council instructed the Permanent Representatives Committee to continue the examination of this proposal with a view of reaching an agreement at its meeting in December, taking into account the objective stated by the European Council in March 2003.

The aim of the Directive is to transpose the international rules on ship-source pollution of the MARPOL Convention into Community legislation and to establish harmonized rules for their enforcement. It also extends the measures to offences that have taken place on the high seas, in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The proposal responds a number of "post-Prestige" moves, including a European Commission declaration of its intent to present a proposal to ensure that any person who has caused or contributed to a pollution incident through grossly negligent behavior should be subject to appropriate sanctions. In March, the European Council called for the "adoption, before the end of 2003, based on the Commission's recent proposal, of a system of sanctions, including criminal sanctions, for pollution offenses on the appropriate legal basis."

SEAFARER TRAINING

Yesterday's Council meeting endorsed a legislative proposal aims at simplifying the recognition of seafararer's certificates by introducing a centralised and harmonised procedure for a Community-wide recognition of third countries complying with the STCW 4 Convention and establishing a specific procedure for the withdrawal of the recognition, as well as for the monitoring on a regular basis of third countries' compliance with the STCW Convention.

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