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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

EU Commissioner De Palacio reacts to Prestige tanker incident

Loyola De Palacio, EU Commissioner for Transport and Energy, gave her reaction to the sinking of the Prestige tanker off the coast of Galicia in a speech to the European Parliament on Thursday. Speaking in Strasbourg, Commissioner De Palacio expressed her anger at the incident and said that it would not have happened had the EU Member States adopted the Erika I and II packages more rapidly. De Palacio said that the EU Member States had suffered from "a lack of vision".

Commissioner De Palacio underlined that her priority was to establish the lessons to be learnt and to act on them. Identifying the chain of events that had led to the incident and establishing where responsibility lay were of the utmost urgency, she said.

The Commissioner has already been working with her officials to identify a number of actions to be taken. It was not acceptable to wait until June 2003 or June 2004 to implement the Erika I and II packages respectively, she said. The Commissioner insisted that these packages of legislation must be implemented immediately and effectively. Ports must fulfil their obligation to inspect 25% of vessels, targeting older vessels in particular. The replacement of single hull tankers by those with double hulls must be speeded up and the community monitoring system should be set up. To aid the management of incidents such as the one involving the Prestige, areas and places of refuge must be designated. The Commissioner's frustration over the lack of political agreement on a permanent location for the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) was also evident. It is to be established temporally in Brussels and De Palacio hopes to have it operational by the end of the year.

On the single hull issue, Commissioner De Palacio announced that she would ask the EU's Ministers of Transport on 6 December to support an initiative that would ensure that particularly hazardous cargoes, such as fuel oil, were only carried in double hull tankers.

De Palacio said there were a number of other issues which the Commission would be examining. These included the application of criminal sanctions in cases such as the Prestige incident. Reinforcement of the rights of coastal states, in particular with regard to hazardous cargoes, and the enforcement of the 200 mile limit were alternatives indicated by the Commissioner. Improvement of the Directive on Port State Controls will also be considered in order to deal with what she called "ports of convenience", where controls are hardly ever carried out. In this context and responding to a question from Bill Millar, a Member of the European Parliament, De Palacio stated that she had already written to Greece and to the UK requesting information on their application of the current legislation. The Prestige tanker had called in Greece and at Gibraltar during the summer of 2002 but had not been inspected.

With regard to the IMO and the international maritime law, De Palacio called for a review of basic principles. The Commissioner said she felt that this was necessary in order to deal with the requirements of modern maritime transport. Indeed, Commissioner De Palacio ended her speech by commenting that, as the seas were the property of everybody, concerns must therefore be raised at a global level.

De Palacio's insistence that EU Member States must act to implement existing legislation was widely welcomed by MEPs present. A number of MEPS from various political groups pledged their support for the Commissioner's efforts. Furthermore, an almost unanimous European Parliament Resolution calling for prompt action by the Commission as well as by Member States was adopted by the Parliament Plenary assembled in Strasbourg