EU’s sea pollution directive counters the law, ICS says

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) expressed its strong reservations regarding the EU draft law on the shipping market’s operating conditions. ICS, which represents 36 national shipowner unions and two thirds of the world’s commercial fleet, has concerns about the planned EU directive to further avoid sea pollution by ships (e.g. oil spills) which is being promoted by the Directorate General for Transport of the European Commission. Based on a second-reading text of the directive, penalization and the threat of imprisonment are allowed in case of accidents, which contravenes the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). The latter, signed by all EU members, dictates that pollution from ships is not a criminal act, unless committed «in order to cause harm, or after neglect and in the knowledge it could cause harm.» «MARPOL regulations reflect the view of the global lawmaker that the penalization of accidents is neither rational nor fair, given the natural dangers in the sea,» said Rolf Westfal-Larsen, the ICS chairman. He also remarked that «the EU’s intention to impose penalties on ships and crews in its territorial waters will undermine its plans for requesting ships with problems to seek refuge at specific spots.» This clause is aimed at avoiding a repeat of the conditions that led to the sinking of the Prestige tanker off the Spanish coast of Galicia, in November 2002. According to Westfal-Larsen, international shipping certainly recognizes the need for apt punishment for deliberate violation of the environmental safety rules and supports the general aim of the directive, but only if the relevant European institutions proceed in the small changes required so that the directive’s clauses remain in harmony with international law. The prevailing view among shipping companies is that unless the EU proposals are not amended, captains will become «scapegoats» in an effort to claim punitive damages, in other words, attributing blame for an accident. It will also be a bad blow to the axiom that an international market needs a single international law.

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