EU wants strong measures

Brussels (AFP) – The European Union needs to take strong measures on maritime safety, and it cannot rely entirely on UN laws to protect its coasts from unseaworthy vessels, European Commission President Romano Prodi said in a letter made public on Saturday. Addressing Prime Minister Costas Simitis of current EU President Greece, Prodi said a «strong initiative is necessary to deal with countries which, by offering flags of convenience or being negligent in other ways, allow dangerous and unsuitable boats to travel with impunity in international waters.» The European bloc, moreover, should try to change the UN convention on maritime law «so that coastal states can better protect themselves… against the risks linked to ‘risky’ vessels in transit.» Prodi’s letter continues a debate about ship safety sparked by a massive pollution disaster off northwestern Spain, after the Prestige tanker broke up and sank on November 19, spewing thousands of tons of heavy fuel oil that has washed up on Spanish and French beaches. Greece, which has the EU’s largest merchant fleet and is a world shipping state, has pushed for new safety measures to be passed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a UN body that deals with sea transport affairs. But along with other EU officials, Prodi has called for stricter rules for European countries above and beyond IMO rules. The European Commission will look at ways of drafting EU laws on the subject, he said in the letter to Simitis. He also asked the Greek minister for an «urgent examination» of a proposed EU measure that would ban the transport in European waters of heavy fuel in single-hulled tankers, like the sunken Prestige.

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