Dutch want pollution pact soon

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The Dutch presidency of the European Union said yesterday it is pressing for agreement next month on introducing severe new penalties of up to 10 years in jail for sea pollution, including oil spills. The proposals include sentences ranging from one to 10 years and fines from 150,000 euros to 1.5 million euros ($195,000 to $1.95 million). But Greece, Cyprus and Malta, member states where large tanker fleets are registered, are blocking agreement, saying they would suffer discrimination from non-EU competitors under such arrangements. Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner said he hoped a deal could be struck at a December 2-3 meeting of EU justice ministers. Part of the penalties would be applicable only to ships flying EU flags. Others with flags of third countries would remain protected by international conventions, whose penalties are lighter. An EU official ruled out the likelihood of the proposed EU regulations being heavily watered down in order to satisfy objections. «We all want a compromise but it must be a valid one,» he said. The Dutch EU presidency has proposed one solution whereby Greece, Cyprus and Malta would be exempt from the proposed new penalties for a three-year period. Sea and coastal pollution has become a major EU issue following disasters off European coasts in recent years. They included that of the single-hull oil tanker Prestige which went down off the Spanish Atlantic coast two years ago leaking much of its 77,000 tons of cargo and polluting parts of the Spanish and French coastlines. The ship’s Greek captain was detained in Spain on charges of failing to comply with orders from Spanish rescue services and causing a pollution disaster.