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February 26, 2004

EC gets tough on vessel traffic monitoring

The European Commission has sent a letter of formal notice to all EU Member States, except Denmark, Germany and Spain, for failure to respect EU legislation on vessel traffic monitoring and information systems, a 2002 Directive adopted in the wake of the Erika accident.

This is the first step of an infringement procedure against Member States that should have adopted the necessary national legislation by February 5, 2004.

The aim of the legislation is to enhance the safety of maritime traffic with a package of measures including the establishment of places of refuge for ships in distress and the obligation to carry on board a voyage data recorder ("black box").

If the Member States concerned do not adopt the necessary measures to implement the directive within two months, the Commission will decide to continue the infringement procedure by sending reasoned opinions, the step before referring the case to the Court of Justice.

The key objective of the proposal is to enhance, through the use of the most recent technological developments such as automatic identification systems (AIS), the identification and monitoring of maritime traffic in European waters, in particular ships potentially posing a risk to safety or to the environment.

The proposal also includes a number of provisions aimed at improving prevention of maritime accidents and pollution, through the setting-up of a telematic network for the exchange of information on vessels and dangerous cargoes, and will provide a legal basis enabling Member States to prohibit ships from leaving ports in exceptional weather conditions involving a serious threat to safety or the environment.

Incidents at sea likely to cause major pollution will be better handled through the requirement for Member States to draw up plans for accommodating ships in distress in places of refuge along their coasts, as well as through increased obligations for vessels to report incidents and pollution at sea and to cooperate with shore-based authorities, says the Commission. Investigation of maritime casualties will be improved through the requirement for passenger and cargo ships to carry on board a voyage data recorder ("black-box" for casualty investigation).

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