European Union transport ministers welcomed proposals to tighten safety rules for oil tankers in the wake of the disastrous Erika oil spill off France's Atlantic coast last year. Ministers from the 15 EU states had an initial discussion of proposals put forward by the EU's executive Commission, but took no decisions. The Commission has called for a series of measures, including the phasing out of single-hulled oil tankers and the tightening up of port inspections, to prevent a repetition of the Erika disaster. The tanker broke up off France's Atlantic coast last December, spilling tons of oil into the sea and causing an environmental disaster.
Portuguese Transport Minister Jorge Coelho, who chaired the EU meeting, said the Commission's proposals were generally welcomed by member states. The discussion showed that "the European Union and all its member states are fully committed to stepping up maritime safety and preventing accidents at sea," he said.
Priority should be given to the Commission's proposals to harmonize ship inspection procedures gradually, improve the exchange of information among member states and step up training courses for inspectors, he said.
"There should also be proposals on the withdrawal from the market of single-hull vessels in accordance with work under way in the International Maritime Organization and that is a crucial point," he added.
The Commission has called for single-hulled tankers to be phased out by 2015, to be replaced with safer double-hulled vessels. The Commission's proposals were particularly welcomed by France, which bore the brunt of the Erika disaster.
"Europe must accept its responsibilities in this area," French Transport Minister Jean-Claude Gayssot said. "No one denies any longer that we must move on this problem."