Lessons to be learnt from the MSC Napoli incident discussed in Brussels

Representatives of several European Union institutions, including Parliament, Council, Commission, the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) and various shipping industry bodies, had a fruitful discussion in the European Parliament in Brussels this week on the recent MSC Napoli incident. At the meeting, which was welcomed and supported by industry including INTERTANKO, participants made a critical comparison of the handling of this accident with the very different handling and outcome of the Erika and Prestige accidents. It was obvious to all that the MSC Napoli case showed very clearly the benefits of good cooperation between France and the U.K., as well as the need for an independent authority able to take swift and good decisions when a ship is in trouble.


As readers may recall, the MSC Napoli is a containership which suffered flooding in her engine room on the French side of the English Channel in the morning of 18 January. In accordance with the Anglo-French Joint Maritime Contingency Plan (Mancheplan), the initial assistance to the ship was a French-led operation (conducted in close liaison with the U.K. Secretary of State's Representative for Maritime Salvage and Intervention (SOSREP)). It was decided that the least environmentally risky option was to tow the vessel to a place of refuge in U.K. waters. Although Portland Harbour was first selected, the severe weather led SOSREP to decide to beach the ship at Lyme Bay.


A concise account of the incident can be seen here.


The discussions on the incident were particularly relevant, as the European Parliament is in the process of dealing with various proposed amendments regarding places of refuge to a part of the European Commission’s Third Maritime Safety Package. The incident showed very clearly the benefit of having someone with the authority to act swiftly and decidedly – and without political interference - when a ship is in need of assistance.


The U.K. system with SOSREP, which was established following a recommendation made by Lord Donaldson in his report on the Sea Empress accident, has been used by many as an illustration of a good system fit for purpose. On behalf of the U.K. Secretary of State, SOSREP is able to oversee, control and, if necessary, intervene and exercise "ultimate command and control", acting in the overriding interest of the U.K. in salvage operations within U.K. waters involving vessels or fixed platforms where there is significant risk of pollution.


The MSC Napoli accident very clearly underlines that this system actually works and should therefore be used as a model in other countries. Accordingly, this should be taken into account when the new European Union Vessel Traffic Monitoring (VTM) and Information Directive is adopted.


Furthermore, the Third Maritime Safety Package also includes proposals on a new Directive on Civil Liability and Financial Security of Shipowners. P&I Club representatives showed very clearly that the current international treaties already cover this type of incident. The problem is that many of these treaties have not reached the required number of ratifications to permit them to enter into force. They concluded that if these Conventions had been in effect at the time of this incident, the draft European Directive would have provided no additional value. They therefore strongly urged that further emphasis should be put on the ratification of these treaties, a point also reflected in the intervention by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS).


The event was very ably chaired by Belgian MEP Dirk Sterckx, who has taken a particular interest in the issue of places of refuge, not least as Rapporteur on the proposals for a new VTM Directive as well as the European Parliament’s MARE report (following the Prestige incident). U.K. MEP Graham Watson (in whose constituency the ship was beached) asked a number of questions. Speakers at the meeting included Michel Aymeric (French Ministry of Transport, Equipment, Tourism and the Sea), Paul Hinton (London P&I Club), Andrew Bardot (International Group of P&I Clubs), Peter Hinchliffe (International Chamber of Shipping). Willem de Ruiter, (European Maritime Safety Agency - EMSA) was there in order to answer questions from MEPs and other policy makers. So was the classification society of MSC Napoli, Det norske Veritas, and several industry experts.


The hope is that that these discussions will assist MEPs of the EP Transport Committee in arriving at the best possible solutions for safer shipping when they vote on the Commission’s Third Maritime Safety proposals later this month.


This week’s Points of View article expands on some of the comments and comparisons made at the Brussels meeting this week. 

Contact: Kristian R. Fuglesang or Bill Box