EU set to adopt fines for polluting ships

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union will adopt new tough measures today against ships that pollute EU waters, breaking a long-standing deadlock with three of its Mediterranean shipping partners. An agreement was possible after the 25-nation bloc dropped provisions which would have introduced EU-wide prison sentences for captains responsible for oil spills. Despite the proposals being watered down, EU officials welcomed the deal. «Illegal discharges and serious negligence must be fought at all cost. The threat of criminal sanctions will help protect our coasts,» European Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot said in a statement. The Commission proposed the new rules after the Prestige disaster, which caused one of Europe’s worst oil slicks off the Spanish coast in 2002, when 64,000 tons were leaked. Figures from the European Commission show about 150,000 tons of oil ends up in the Mediterranean Sea every year as a result of discharges from ships. But despite the environmental damage caused by polluting ships, negotiations were bogged down because of opposition from Greece, Cyprus and Malta. Greek companies own a large part of the EU’s shipping fleet. Malta and Cyprus are much smaller players, but all three were concerned they could lose business if the original proposals were approved. Under the new rules, EU states should fine shipowners up to 1.5 million euros ($1.8 million) in cases where pollution caused «significant and widespread damage to water quality,» harmed animals and plants, or caused serious injury to people. Lesser offenses should lead to fines of 150,000 to 300,000 euros as well as the loss of any public aid or the right to conduct business. The decision also means that the responsibility for disasters is no longer limited to captains and shipowners, but also extends to those chartering ships or classification societies, if they engage in serious negligence.

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