European plans drawn up in the wake of the Erika accident to crack down on aging tankers could endanger shippers' ability to supply oil to the continent, shipping analysts said. Detailed plans put to European Union transport ministers last week were stiffer than early outline proposals, they said.
The EU proposals demand that all single hull crude tankers above 20,000 deadweight tons and product carriers over 30,000 dwt should not be able to enter European ports after January 1, 2010.
Although the EU said in February that it would follow the U.S. Oil Pollution Act (OPA), enacted in 1990, and give operators until 2015 to upgrade their fleets to double-hulled vessels, European plans have now opted for a cutoff five years earlier than the American laws. The single hull tanker would be outlawed in Europe by 2010 if the plans are adopted.
Forcing vessels that could be just 15 years old out of the market - rather than allowing them to sail on until an average of 25 - would put enormous pressure on vessel supply and shipyards to replace them, analysts said. The 2010 cutoff for larger tankers would most drastically squeeze the supply of one-million-barrel Suezmax and 80,000-ton Aframax tankers.
The 30,000-ton workhorses of the dirty oil product sector would also come under heavy pressure, as most of the ships used to carry fuel oil are older vessels that can no longer be used for higher value clean petroleum cargoes.
Europe's oil trade is the largest in the world, with crude oil imports representing about 27 percent of the total, compared with 25 percent for U.S. imports. More than 2,000 million tons of crude and refined oil products were transported globally by sea in 1998.
The shipping industry opposes the new rules as too strict and says they should be applied globally through the United Nations body for marine affairs, the International Maritime Organization.