December 3, 2002

EU moves towards rust bucket ban
The European Commission today published a black list naming 66 ships. That doesn't mean, however, that the EC has barred those ships from European waters. It has no powers of its own to do so. The list actually names substandard ships that would have been banned if new European maritime safety rules had already entered into force.

The EC also announced that It is also proposing the prohibition, "once and for all," of the carriage of heavy fuel oil in single-hull oil tankers. It wants EU Member States to give their views on this new measure at the next European Council to be held in Copenhagen on December 12 and 13.

In addition, the Commission is formally requesting the Member States to speed up and even implement ahead of schedule the maritime safety measures adopted following the Erika disaster three years ago.

For its part, the Commission has already taken steps to speed up the establishment of the European Maritime Safety Agency.

"Words are not enough," said Loyola de Palacio, EC Vice-President with special responsibility for transport and energy."It is necessary to act and apply maritime safety measures in full. Safety is the responsibility of everyone, and strict application of all the measures is the only way of ensuring that substandard ships do not fall through the safety net" She added "We also need to thoroughly amend the international rules, in particular in terms of criminal and financial liability. However, only by speaking with one voice within the International Maritime Organization can we have a bigger say."

In a communication to the European Parliament and the European Council adopted today, the Commission draws the main conclusions from the "Prestige" disaster. It notes the very considerable progress that has already been made since the Erika disaster, but indicates that the measures in question must be applied in full by the Member States if they are to be truly effective. It also examines the rapid practical measures that could be taken in order to improve maritime safety and which could be rendered operational rapidly.

Publication of a black list of very dangerous ships

What Commission terms an "indicative black list" names 66 ships that have been detained on several occasions in European ports for failing to comply with maritime safety rules. The Commission hopes that operators will respomd by refraining from chartering substandard ships and that the owners and flag states of the ships in question will apply the tougher maritime safety standards straight away.

Ban on the transport of heavy fuel oil in single-hull oil tankers

The Commission has also decided to propose a Regulation prohibiting the transport of heavy fuel oil in single-hull tankers bound for or leaving EU ports. Heavy fuel oil, an extremely polluting but comparatively cheap substance, is often carried on the oldest and most unsafe ships. The Commission wants the Copenhagen European Council to call upon Member States to stress the importance of this matter. In addition, the Commission urges the Council to give it a negotiating mandate to ensure that candidate countries, as well as neighbouring countries which are relevant for the heavy fuel oil trade in EU waters, apply the same principles, through administrative agreements within existing cooperation frameworks, such as the Paris Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control and Euro-Med.

Earlier and accelerated application of European legislation

The Commission also wants the Member States to take urgent practical measures to ensure the full application of the new safety rules. The Member States can no longer afford not to recruit an adequate number of inspectors in order to check at least 25% of ships, as required by the European rules now in force. They must ensure a sufficient level of inspection in all their ports and anchorage areas if they do not want them to become literally "ports of convenience".

Establishment of the European Maritime Safety Agency

The Commission says it has already done everything that is needed to ensure the early establishment of the future European Maritime Safety Agency. The appointment of its Executive Director is scheduled for January 2003. The Commission has already started work on putting into place the Community vessel traffic monitoring system, SafeSeaNet, which includes the establishment of a European data base and a network between the Member States for the exchange of real-time data from the transponders on board vessels so that the authorities can know, at any time, the identity, position and cargo of vessels sailing in European waters. The Commission also wants the Member States to draw up, ahead of schedule, national plans to accommodate vessels in distress in places of refuge.

Compensation and additional measures

It is also essential to raise the level of compensation for damage resulting from major maritime pollution, says the Commission. At the Diplomatic Conference of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in May 2003, the Member States should decide to ratify the Convention creating a third level of compensation and ensure that a sufficient amount of compensation (at least Euro1 billion) is established. These measures should enter into force before the end of 2003.

The Commission is also proposing a series of additional measures, including in particular:

  • legislation on the criminal liability of entities recognised as being responsible for maritime pollution through gross negligence. To this end, the Commission will make two proposals: one concerning the introduction of financial penalties for gross negligence resulting in pollution, and the other concerning illicit discharges.
  • amendments to the international liability regime: the Member States should fully support the proposals aimed at ensuring that owners can no longer limit their liability if they are at fault, and putting an end to the immunity of other key players such as the charterers, operators, etc.;
  • introduction of a Community-wide recognition system for certificates of competency issued to seafarers outside the EU.

Accession to the International Maritime Organization (IMO)

Lastly, notes the Commission it is important for the Community to become a full member of the International Maritime Organisation in order to ensure that the Member States' positions are coordinated and that it plays a key role in tightening up maritime safety.

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