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Monday, October 15, 2018


On 21 March, the Commission adopted a communication on the safety of the seaborne oil-trade in which it calls for governments of the European Union (EU), the European Parliament and the EU industry to accept far-reaching proposals to reduce the chances of accidents and pollution.

In a press release date 21 March (quoted below), the Commission proposed radical measures to prevent oil pollution diasters on European coastlines.


The European Commission made another fundamental step towards the enhancement of maritime safety in the Community waters through the adoption of a communication on the safety of the seaborne oil-trade, adopted on 21 March 2000, in which it calls for governments of the European Union (EU), the European Parliament and EU industry to accept far-reaching proposals to reduce the chances of accidents and pollution. The proposal will strengthen the existing EU legislation on Port State controls and classification societies, but will also phase out oil tankers with a single hull in EU waters. Commission Vice President in charge of Transport and Energy, Mrs Loyola de Palacio, said: "I recognise that the action we are recommending has cost implications for Member States and for industry, but we have to strike a balance. It is only when all the different parties accept their responsibility and our rules are enforced that we can maintain Europe's standards, minimise the risk of damage to our environment and protect the interests of all the European citizens."

On 12 December 1999, the oil tanker ERIKA, a 25 year old, single-hull vessel under Maltese flag, broke in two 40 miles off the coast of Brittany. More than 10,000 tons of heavy oil were released into the sea, polluting 400 kilometres of coast, gravely damaging flora and fauna, fishing and tourism. This was not the first such disaster but it highlighted the need for an enhanced control of safety on board oil-tankers at European level. The Commission has proposed radical measures to try to ensure that it is the last.

The application of the current international legal framework including IMO rule- falls short of providing an adequate response to maritime safety. Thus the European Commission proposals following the 1978 Amoco Cadiz disaster resulted in the end simply in a number of formal declarations and resolutions, with the exception of one directive establishing minimum requirements for certain tankers. Therefore, action to discourage use of old, technologically obsolete and potentially unsafe ships and to enforce and reinforce the present regulatory framework, particularly in terms of control in Community ports, can significantly help. This is the approach which the USA also took only one year after the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989.

The Commission has therefore proposed today a series of immediate and longer-term actions. Firstly,

·     Control of ships visiting Community ports should be reinforced and ships not meeting the norms should be dealt with severely. Therefore, the Commission proposes to ban ships over 15 years of age from all Community ports if they have been detained by Port State Control authorities more than twice in the previous two years. The Commission will publish a 'black list' every six months. Furthermore, for older ships, port controls should systematically include inspection of ballast tanks and ships should be required to report certain data before entering a port so that inspections can be properly prepared. Member States should, mainly through recruitment and training of inspectors, commit themselves to control more ships more thoroughly and to avoid the creation of 'ports of convenience.'

·     Classification societies should be controlled more thoroughly. These societies are responsible, under delegated authority from flag States, to check the structural soundness of ships. The Commission may seek to suspend or revoke the authority of societies which are negligent. In addition, more stringent quality criteria must be met by the recognised organisations, including the obligation to follow certain procedures when a ship changes class, such as the transmission of the complete history file of the ship to the new classification society.

·     The Commission proposes to ban oil tankers with a single hull from EU waters. The same calendar will apply as has been adopted in the USA (2005, 2010, 2015, according to tonnage). It also strongly supports any endeavours aimed at achieving this accelerated calendar at international level as well. It is recognised between the major shipbuilding associations that for the foreseeable future there is sufficient building capacity to cope with the increased demand for new double hull tankers that will emerge from the Commission's proposal.

These three proposals form a coherent package, not only for oil tankers but also other ships carrying dangerous or polluting cargo. Information gathered during controls at each port or during classification society checks will be disseminated largely through the EQUASIS database, jointly created by the European Commission and France, which will give a detailed description of the ships at any moment and should contribute to establishing the responsibility of each party in the event of an accident.

In a second stage, later in the year, the Commission envisages complementary proposals on the following:

·     Systematic exchange of information between all the actors in the maritime community by further developing the EQUASIS system in particular.

·     Improved surveillance of maritime navigation, especially in the areas most frequented by oil tankers. In addition to the obligation of ‘self declaration’ proposed by the Commission in December 1993 but which the Council has not yet adopted, means of controlling the most dangerous ships outside our territorial waters should be studied.

·     The creation of a European structure for Maritime Safety which should have responsibility for overseeing the organisation and effectiveness of national controls in order to ensure greater uniformity.

·     Measures should be developed relating to the responsibility of the different actors in the maritime transport of seaborne oil trade. Although liability has, up to now, been laid down in international conventions, the Commission intends to work towards a supplementary collective indemnity regime, also including the principle of liability of the carrier and the cargo owner.

The reinforcement of maritime transport safety cannot be seen in isolation. It includes understanding rules which are often very technical and the need to strike the right balance between the Union's environmental protection needs and its industrial and international interests including its ability to renew its fleet.

In order to avoid any further disasters like the ERIKA, the Commission, without waiting for the proposed legislation to be adopted, calls on the petrol companies to enter into a voluntary agreement not to charter tankers more than 15 years of age, unless they are shown to be in satisfactory condition, and to take other measures to improve safety.

Finally, the Commission notes that many measures already adopted have not yet been correctly implemented and comments that legal proceedings have been instigated in a number of cases. It also deplores the widespread use of flags of convenience, which means that, for example, a large part of the fleet controlled by European companies flies the flags of third countries for tax reasons. Finally it considers that it should be a condition to the accession negotiations with Cyprus and Malta that these countries apply the existing Community legislation on Maritime Safety at the time of the accession.

By making these proposals only three months after the Erika's sinking, the European Commission intends to greatly reduce the risk of accidents and the devastating consequences of pollution. "This is a great opportunity to take ambitious and clear decisions to avoid such disasters in the next future" said Ms de Palacio. "There is no price for the sea" she added.




It seems to us that the likely course of events will be that this communication will be presented by the Commission to the Council during the Transport Council meeting of 28 March next, the Council will do no more than take note of the Commission position (while the French will probably announce that they will give this matter a high priority during their Presidency).

As the Council will not have had time to consider the matter further they will send it down to the Transport Working Group which will ultimately feed into Coreper. We can expect that this matter will come back before the Council for serious consideration by September.

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