January 22, 2004
EU inches towards criminal sanctions for ship-source pollution
Intertanko reports that the European Parliament has adopted its amendments to the European Commission's draft Directive on penal sanctions in case of ship-source pollution. The controversial Commission proposal is still far from final adoption, says Intertanko, but Parliament's vote means that the issue has moved one step forward.
Following Parliament's vote it is now up to the European Union Member States to express their opinion in the Council.
From the tanker industry's point of view, Parliament's suggested changes contain both positive and negative elements compared with the initial Commission proposal, says Intertanko. Most importantly, the parliamentary majority supports the industry view that the scope of European penal sanctions should not go beyond MARPOL. Consequently this majority has rejected the Commission's proposal to extend the definition of "illegal discharges" to cover accidental pollution. The European Parliament also supported the shipping industry's request for responsible (port) authorities to be included in the list of potential subjects liable for criminal sanctions.
The Parliament also called for the inclusion of appropriate safeguards for fair and transparent trials and for sanctions to be balanced and proportionate. Intertanko also notes that its repeated call for adequate reception facilities has been heard. The Parliament insisted on including obligations for Member States to implement existing legislation thoroughly and also to go further and install facilities for the "degassing and cleaning of vessels in all Community ports".
ĘBut Intertank also cautions that the Parliament suggested going beyond the Commission proposal on several fronts. Firstly, it supported a suggestion that EU-flagged ships should be subject to penal sanctions irrespective of where the pollution has occurred. And it disregarded industry objections to possible sanctions including the "confiscation of the ship". Parliament also suggested that discharges into the sea caused by gross negligence and "omission" related to "technical manipulations of vessels" should be regarded as criminal offenses in EU Member States.
Parliament also insisted that in order to secure an effective implementation of the Directive it is necessary to impose a strict European timetable for the installation of onboard data monitoring equipment (VDR) on all existing ships over a period from July 1, 2005 to January 1, 2008. Parliament suggested delegating to EMSA (the European Maritime Safety Agency) a monitoring and coordination role in the enforcement of the Directive. According to the Plenary vote, EMSA should create an on-line EU database on illegal discharges and ships that do not comply with the Directive.
Finally, says Intertanko, the Parliament once again calls for the setting up of a European coast guard and suggests that the Commission come forward within six months with a proposal on how this can best be done.
Intertanko comment's that the Parliament's plenary vote brings the "first reading" phase in the European Parliament to a close. The draft Directive, as amended by the European Parliament, will now go to the Council for consideration. If the Council disagrees with the European Parliament's changes--which is a most likely outcome--a "second reading" will be conducted. However, the current European Parliament term will end in April to allow for elections of a new Parliament in June, in which also the ten new member states will take part. It therefore seems highly unlikely, concludes Intertanko, that a second reading will take place before autumn 2004 at the earliest. Combined with the fact that the opinions of Member States differ considerably on several of the elements of this proposal, this suggests that it might still take a couple of years before the directive comes into law. "This is not to say, however, that this proposal will fade away. Intertanko will therefore continue to keep these issues high on its European agenda."