Unilateral ship measures could boomerang

The slew of legislative measures taken by EU countries unilaterally in the wake of the sinking of the oil tanker Prestige is eroding international consensus, likely to harm the shipping industry and the environment and lead to higher compliance costs, a leading solicitor said yesterday. Speaking at a shipping conference in Piraeus, Chris Hobbs, managing partner of London-based law firm Norton Rose, questioned the benefits of the unilateral measures taken by Spain and likely to be followed by Italy, France and Denmark. The Prestige, a Greek-operated, Bahamas-flagged, single-hull oil tanker carrying 77,000 thousand tons of heavy fuel oil, sank off Spain in November, polluting the Galician and Iberian coasts. Such was the outcry over the accident that French President Jacques Chirac promised to punish «rascals of the sea who operate floating garbage cans.» While the cause of the accident has yet to be publicized, Spain at the beginning of the year decided to ban single-hull tankers carrying heavy fuel oil from entering its ports, terminals or anchorages. It also declared its 200-mile exclusive economic zone off-limits to single-hull crafts. Italy and France are planning similar measures, while unconfirmed reports said Denmark is considering a possible ban. The rash of «regional standards is likely to erode international consensus» and «may result in commercial uncertainty and practical difficulties for maintaining the required tonnage,» Hobbs said. He said the differing regional standards could even jack up compliance costs. Hobbs suggested that the International Marine Organization coordinate new measures and ensure that they are backed by international consensus and existing convention. Shipowners are feeling the heat of the regulatory pressure, said Peter Goodfellow, chief executive of Stelmar Shipping. He said legislation has contributed to higher personnel, operational and vessel safety but, at the same time, increased the bureaucratic burden. Other laws have criminalized the shipmaster’s role. Greek shipping has responded positively to the challenges with a fleet of newbuildings, improved management and operation, said Ted Petropoulos of research firm Petrofin.