EU shipping bill veto criticized

The environmental group Greenpeace yesterday called on Greece to reverse its decision to block a key European Union agreement aimed at cracking down on ships that dump pollutants into the sea. Greece’s decision, backed by new EU entrants Malta and Cyprus, was announced last Tuesday and comes ahead of an EU summit meeting that opens in Brussels tomorrow. The stance taken by Greece, which has by far the biggest merchant shipping fleet of any EU nation, «opens the door to further destruction of the maritime environment,» Greenpeace said in a statement issued in Athens. The statement called on Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to stop defending «a few polluting shipowners and to end its alliance with Cyprus and Malta, which are major providers of flags of convenience to shipping companies around the world.» Greece, Cyprus and Malta voiced their opposition to the measures at a meeting of EU justice ministers in Luxembourg last week. Other countries advocated tough action in the wake of the November 2002 Prestige disaster. The Prestige oil tanker went down off the Spanish coast, breaking in two and causing the worst oil slick Spain has ever known, with beaches being polluted across its north coast as far as France. Dutch Justice Minister Piet-Hein Donner, whose country holds the EU presidency, told last week’s meeting that it was past time to act on sanctions, noting that in the aftermath of the Prestige sinking the EU executive commission had asked that the matter be settled by the end of 2003. But in Athens, government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros declared: «Greece has no intention, and no interest, in cooperating in the criminalization of seafarers. Others, not us, are responsible for environmental disasters.» The conservative government has defended its stance by citing the need to protect Greece’s shipping fleet. It has stated that countries within the EU which are pushing hardest for tough penalties against polluting vessels are those that do not have a strong maritime tradition. (AFP)