EU imposes tougher rules for sea accidents, pollution

European Union governments yesterday approved a new and tougher legal framework for dealing with sea pollution, which levies high minimum fines for such instances resulting either unwillingly or from gross negligence, and widens the range of possible responsibility for maritime accidents. The Commission adopted the new framework without discussion along with a new directive on sea pollution despite opposition from Greece, Cyprus and Malta, which fear the measures will make sea transport costlier. The directive is milder than the original draft proposed by the Commission, but still stricter than the international MARPOL convention now in force. Under the new rules, member states will fine shipowners between 150,000 and 1.5 million euros, depending on the seriousness of an accident and the extent of responsibility of those involved. The gamut of those involved is no longer restricted to captains and shipowners, as envisaged by MARPOL, but includes a vessel’s manager, the chartering firm, and, potentially, its shipping register and crew. Such provisions will apply only within member states’ territorial waters in cases of gross negligence, and for all other cases within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone of each member state. Within territorial waters, the new rules apply to all vessels, irrespective of flag. Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security Franco Frattini said that he may present even stricter rules within five years.

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