NEWS

Shipowners: Help ships

The Union of Greek Shipowners (EEE) expressed sorrow yesterday at the sinking of the Prestige tanker and the pollution this caused in Spain and Portugal, and it appealed for authorities not to conduct a witch hunt against tankers. EU merchant marine ministers meet in Brussels today and the sinking of the Prestige on Nov. 19 will be at the top of their agenda. The Greek-managed, Liberian-flagged ship has leaked some 17,000 tons of oil into the sea and reached coastlines. This has led to calls for an EU ban on single-hulled tankers carrying heavy crude. The EEE stressed that much blame lay with the Spanish authorities who had forced the stricken tanker to go far out to sea, where bad weather sank it after six days. «This accident should under no circumstances lead lawmakers into a new paroxysm of legislative proposals, driven by political and social pressures,» it said. «We must wait for the results of the official investigation into the causes of the accident. Special mention must be made of the immediate need for coastal countries to provide harbors for shelter when faced with similar incidents,» it added. «It is very likely that if the tanker had been taken in by the country in whose coastal waters it was sailing when its problem began, the accident would have been avoided or, at least, the economic and environmental damage would have been greatly limited,» EEE said. «It is unacceptable and contrary to traditional maritime principles to reject the provision of assistance to a ship in distress and to shift the blame,» it said. «The negative image projected gives the shipping sector a bad name, which is a mistake. The captain is being treated as a common criminal, blackening the image of all seamen.» The EEE said a ship’s age was not an indicator of the risk it posed if it was built, operated and maintained according to international standards. «Unsinkable ships have not been invented,» the statement said. «What is especially important is that all those involved, and especially coastal countries, be prepared to support ships in distress, so that the consequences of accidents will not be worsened.»