EU proposes stricter measures to ensure maritime transport safety

Brussels – The European Commission yesterday unveiled a seven-point program proposing stringent measures to guarantee the safety of maritime transport. EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot presented the so-called «third maritime safety package» saying that the European Union plans to make its shipping as close as possible to «risk-free» by 2007 by eliminating rust-buckets; that is, ships that are considered unsafe. When he referred to «rust-buckets,» Barrot added, «like the one you see on the screen behind me.» The giant screen showed a ferry at a Greek island port. «We are going to apply zero tolerance,» Barrot warned. The first of the Commission’s proposals is to improve conditions for granting the member states’ flags. The Commission’s objective is to require member states to thoroughly check that ships flying their flags comply with international standards. The harmonization of the application of international standards is seen as the precursor to the future development of a European flag. The implementation of this measure will be monitored by the European Maritime Safety Agency. A second measure is the strengthening of inspections on ships of non-EU countries, combined with fewer inspections on EU ships that have been certified as safe. Third countries may also be exempt from monitoring, provided they have signed a bilateral agreement obliging them to implement the same reforms as EU member states. Third, the EU will revise an older directive for monitoring maritime traffic to require member states to supply a list of «safe harbors» with the necessary equipment to tow ships in difficulty. A fourth measure tightens the monitoring of individual member states’ shipping registers, requiring their certification at European level by independent authorities. Certification can be withdrawn if shipping registers fail to ensure that their ships comply with the EU’s strengthened quality requirements. National shipping registers have come under increased scrutiny following two major oil spills: In 1999, the tanker Erika spilled 20,000 tons of crude oil off the coast of Brittany, France, and in 2002 the Greek-owned Prestige spilled 60,000 tons off the coast of Galicia, in northwestern Spain. The Commission proposal calls for a harmonization of accident investigation procedures; the incorporation into EU law of the 2002 Athens convention and the abolition of the limit on shipowners’ civil liability for accidents that cause serious pollution. The result will be higher damages for passengers – up to 500,000 euros, depending on the nature of the accident – in line with air transport accident provisions, and far higher fines being paid by shipowners. The EU has already moved to make accidents less likely by requiring the replacement of single-hull tankers by 2010. The measures will also make insurance compulsory. Currently, 5 percent of EU shipping is uninsured. «These proposals will lay the foundation for a high quality European fleet,» said Barrot. The Commission proposal must be approved by all 25 member states and the European Parliament before it can be implemented. Some states, including Greece, have been reluctant to accept such stringent measures in the past.

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