Improving Safety at Sea Draft Report Presented

Wednesday, March 10, 2004
The Rapporteur of the European Parliament's Temporary Committee on Improving Safety at Sea (MARE Committee), Dirk Sterckx, made his draft report on improving safety at sea available this week. It will be presented to the Plenary of the European Parliament on 8 March in Strasbourg, after which the MEPs have until 15 March to propose amendments. The final report is scheduled to be adopted by the European Parliament in plenary on 20 - 22 April 2004.

Sterckx was also the Rapporteur who produced the post-Prestige report for the Regional Policy, Transport and Tourism Committee. Both reports are characterised by their balanced view. Sterckx once again emphasises the need for places of refuge, and reiterates the importance of a clear decision-making and command structure for dealing with maritime emergencies. The draft report stresses that there is a need for an independent authority which has the powers and expertise to take the necessary decisions. It furthermore reiterates the European Parliament's request for the Commission to make urgent proposals for financial compensation for places of refuge and to make it clear to what extent existing international conventions already provide for compensation.

Urgent ratification of compensation and maritime safety conventions is also highlighted.

The draft report is very critical of Spain's treatment of Captain Mangouras of the Prestige and calls on the Spanish judicial authorities to relax his daily reporting requirements and to clarify the date and future schedule for the legal proceedings against him. The draft report calls on the European Transport Ministers to adopt a system of penalties for pollution from ships, but stresses that this must not result in a general criminalisation of seafarers.

It is also critical of Spain's attitude that, if similar circumstances to the Prestige were to recur, it would still tow the vessel away from the coast.

The draft report welcomes the European Commission's periodic publication of a black list of vessels banned from entering European waters and ports, and urges its strict enforcement. It also suggests that EMSA (the European Maritime Safety Agency) should have the right to perform spot inspections of ships.

The system for shipping accident investigations needs to be improved, it continues, preferably by setting up an independent European investigation unit in EMSA. It notes with concern that the post-Prestige investigations have still not been concluded nearly a year and a half after the accident and urges that agreement be reached at the IMO on speedy and independent investigations of shipping disasters.

Sterckx's draft report expresses understanding for the concerns expressed by the IMO's Secretary-General over unilateral, regional action, but nevertheless considers that such EU action may sometimes be necessary in the interests of safety. It considers that such measures can act as a catalyst in IMO.

The controversial designation of Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSA) is described as worthwhile only if it is accompanied by clear and enforceable rules. However, the draft report clearly rejects "the categorical banning of high-risk vessels from the 200-mile zone, as this measure is legally contentious, impedes rapid and effective assistance to vessels in distress and causes vessels to make detours, which displaces or even aggravates the problem" - a reference to moves by France, Spain and Portugal, in the months following the Prestige accident, to bar certain tankers from their waters.

Concerns are expressed over ship-to-ship transfers of oil in European waters, and the draft report calls on European Union Member States to take this into account when drawing up emergency plans. It also suggests that the IMO audit system for flag states should be made mandatory, not just voluntary.

There is a reference to the Rocknes disaster off Norway in January, and the draft report calls upon the authorities to investigate i.a. what role the double hull played in that accident. General and specific concerns are expressed over the lack of implementation by some new Member States of European and international safety rules. It mentions concern at "the limited progress made by certain new Member States in implementing European and world rules on maritime safety; notes that there is particular concern about Malta (flag state obligations) and Cyprus (both port state and flag state obligations); calls on the Commission, if necessary, to take measures to protect the other Member States against the consequences of this." (Source: Intertanko)

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