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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

MEP Dirk Sterckx’ draft report on improving safety at sea

A summary of Mr. Dirk Sterckx’ draft report on improving safety at sea, which was presented to the European Parliament Transport Committee on 12 June. The report is quite critical of the Spanish Authorities’ handling of the Prestige incident.

On 12 June the rapporteur, Mr. Dirk Sterckx, presented a draft report on improving safety at sea to the European Parliament’s Committee on Regional Policy, Transport and Tourism (RETT)

The report is i.a. based on the Public Hearing held in the European Parliament in Brussels on 19 and 20 March on the Prestige accident. This hearing was followed up by a European Parliamentary delegation to Galacia 24 – 26 March and 15 – 16 April to Brest.

In the report it is regretted that the IMO did not attend the Public Hearing. It also notes with regret that the Prestige’s Captain was prevented by the Spanish Authorities from attending the hearing.

The report is quite critical of the Spanish Authorities’ handling of the Prestige incident, particularly its refusal to accede to repeated requests for a place of refuge, which the report suggests would have reduced the likelihood of the accident.

There is implied criticism of the fact that it took nearly 24 hours for the Prestige to be taken in tow by tugs. The report refers to the generally held view that the Prestige was so badly damaged that it would not survive in a storm, in spite of which the Spanish authorities gave instructions for the battered vessel to be towed out into open waters – a decision which resulted in the eventual pollution being spread over a much wider geographical area.

The report caustically points out that the assessments by the Spanish authorities of the vessel’s condition, the expertise of its crew and the quality of the inspections the vessel had already undergone “do not tally” with the testimony of, in particular, the Smit salvage company, the director of EMSA, the insurers and the classification society.

Places of refuge are given a very prominent place in the report and described as the “FIRST PRIORITY”, and the European Commission is asked to submit proposals for financial compensation for safe havens. The report envisages that Member States should specify under what circumstances they will make the use of safe havens compulsory.

Mr. Sterckx suggests that it is essential that the responsible authorities have at their disposal clear chains of command, contingency plans and well equipped safe havens. Indeed, the report “INSISTS” that each Member State must have a clear decision-making structure and chain of command for maritime emergencies, together with an independent authority that in turn has at its disposal the necessary judicial and financial say in taking decisions having a binding affect in emergencies within territorial waters and the Exclusive Economic Zone.

The French Préfecture maritime and the British Secretary of State’s Representative (SOSREP) are referred to as examples of systems that ought to be studied further and EMSA is encouraged to submit recommendations for exchanging ‘best practice’, promoting cooperation between EU Member States and introducing European guidelines or minimum requirements in that connection.

There is a request for the European Union Member States to make their best efforts to reach agreement with the IMO on the phasing out of single-hulled tankers through an amendment to MARPOL. Interestingly, the report notes that double-hulled tankers are not without drawbacks, an issue that EMSA is encouraged to study.

The report is critical of some States that have banned vessels carrying dangerous goods from their EEZ, as there are fears of unacceptable risks to their crews and to the environment if the vessels were to encounter difficulties in the event of bad weather. But the report also calls on Member States to control and closely monitor the traffic of dangerous goods within 200 miles of their coastlines and calls for a revision of the UNCLOS paragraphs on the freedom of the high seas in order to protect coastal states from ships that form a threat to the environment and maritime safety.

The report promotes the establishment of a European Coastguard, as well as European Union accession to the IMO.

Compulsory shipping routes and restrictions on sailing, particularly in sensitive areas, as well as compulsory flag-state audits in IMO to combat flags of convenience, and more stringent Port State Control requirements are called for.

The report calls for mandatory IMO guidelines on ship scrapping.

It is suggested that shipowners should pay a larger share of oil pollution compensation.

The report suggests that Port State Controls be undertaken every 6 months for vessels of greater risk, and the reporting requirement of pilots be expanded.

Whilst the report welcomes the Commission’s proposal on penal sanctions, it expresses concern at the increasing criminalisation of seafarers and the damage thereby done to the image of a seafaring career.

The idea of a European register of shipping is resurrected. (It will be recalled that the Commission worked on plans for what was called EUROS during the first half of the 1990s.)

The European Commission is urged to look into additional technical requirements such as the compulsory provision of emergency towing machinery.

Contact:Peter Swift