December 6, 2000

European Commission proposes more marine safety measures
Following up on the legislative proposals put forward in March after the sinking of the oil tanker Erika, the European Commission today adopted a second package of proposed measures.They provide for:

  • the establishment of a maritime traffic control and information system,
  • an oil pollution compensation fund, and
  • a European Maritime Safety Agency.

According to Loyola de Palacio, Vice-President in charge of transport and energy, "adoption of these measures by the Community will make it possible to build a genuine European maritime safety area and ensure an optimum level of protection for the marine environment and the European coastline".

Stricter control of maritime traffic. To ensure that substandard ships do not escape the controls provided for in its Match proposals, the Commission is proposing to tighten up the monitoring and control arrangements for vessels in transit off the European Community's coasts.
 Accordingly, a new proposal for a directive provides for the establishment of a notification system (which would extend to ships transiting off the coast, but not calling at Community ports). It would require ships sailing in Community waters to carry automatic identification systems and "black boxes" similar to those used in aircraft, in order to facilitate accident investigations.

 Since most shipwrecks occur in extreme weather conditions, under the directive ships would not be allowed to leave port in such conditions. It would also make it compulsory for each Member State to have ports of refuge for vessels in distress.

Better compensation for coastal pollution damage. The current rules governing compensation for pollution damage caused by oil tankers were drawn up in the 1970s under the auspices of the IMO (International Maritime Organization). The Commission is now proposing the establishment of a European pollution damage compensation fund (COPE Fund) to provide additional compensation up to a ceiling of ¤1 billion for victims where the current ceiling of ¤200 million under the existing rules is exceeded. The fund will therefore help speed up the full compensation of victims of oil spills in Community waters. This European fund would be financed by European firms that import oil . The Commission's proposal also provides for the imposition by Member States of financial penalties for negligent behavior by any person involved in the transport of oil by sea.

Setting up a European Maritime Safety Agency. In the space of a few years, a large number of safety standards have been drawn up, and the Member States must apply these standards effectively but also harmonise their inspection and control procedures. The European Maritime Safety Agency would have a staff complement limited to 50 and would provide the Commission and Member States with support in applying and monitoring compliance, and evaluate the effectiveness of the maritime safety measures introduced. The Agency's tasks would include the collection of information and the operation of data bases on maritime safety, evaluation and audit of maritime classification societies, and the organization of inspection visits in the Member States to check the conditions under which Port State control is carried out. It would be able to assist the national inspectors in their control tasks (in particular by enabling the inspectors to better identify vessels posing a risk which should be the subject of tighter controls).

These proposals, says the Commission, constitute a package that is consistent with its March proposals. Those were aimed at stepping up vessel inspections in ports, supervising the activities of the classification societies, and phasing out single-hull oil tankers more quickly.

The Commission wants the European Council and European Parliament to reach agreement as soon as possible on the measures contained in the first package. Since the Maastricht Treaty, measures concerning maritime safety can be adopted by qualified majority rather than unanimously. In this connection, Loyola de Palacio stressed that speedy agreement should not undermine the improvement of maritime safety: "Maritime safety is an area in which prevention is by far the best solution. It merits the deployment of considerable human and material resources."

Westchester spill illustrates need for continued phase-out of single-hull tankers
The November 28 spill of nearly half-million gallons of crude into the lower Mississippi River by the foreign-flag single hull tanker Westchester has led the Shipbuilders Council of America to renew its call for the continued phase-out of single-hull [and single-skin] tank vessels in accordance with the schedule developed under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

"Unfortunately it takes an incident like this to remind us of the importance of having environmentally safe vessels operating in our waterways," said Allen Walker, President of the SCA. "Congress recognized this in enacting a phase-out of all single-hull tank vessels calling in the United States under OPA '90. Incidents like this only reinforce the wisdom of Congress in mandating such a phase-out."

All single-hull tank vessels are to be banned from the U.S. trades by the year 2015. Over the next few years numerous U.S.-flag single-hull tank vessels will be phased out, and will need to be replaced.

"A nation that relies so heavily on oil must be able to transport that oil in an efficient and environmentally safe method," Walker said. "The sooner all companies convert to operating double-hulled, environmentally sound vessels, the less likely spills such as the Westchester will occur. Had the Westchester had a double-hull, it is likely that no oil would have escaped as a result of its grounding."

SCA says it is is encouraged by the fact that numerous U.S.-flag replacement tank vessels are under construction or conversion in American shipyards, and anticipates many more companies will be making commitments to build double-hull tank vessels over the next several years as phase-outs of single-hull tank vessels increase. SCA strongly supports the building of double-hulled, state-of-the-art vessels designed to protect the environment and efficiently transport the nation's oil.

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