EU Proposes Maritime Safety Agency After Oil, Chemical Spills

BRUSSELS, Belgium, December 6, 2000 (ENS) - To deal with massive oil spills such as the one last December from the tanker Erika off the French coast, the European Commission today published a second set of legislative proposals to improve maritime safety.

These are in addition to three draft laws proposed in March, and together the two sets form a package which European Union transport commissioner Loyola de Palacio said would "make it possible to build a genuine European maritime safety area."

The new proposals are to create a European maritime safety agency, a European oil spill compensation fund to supplement an existing international fund, and a notification system so that ships travelling in European waters would be monitored regardless of whether they entered a port or not.


Stern of the Erika after the shipwreck (Photo courtesy French Ministry of Defense)
The Commission also wants all ships travelling in European waters to carry a black box data recorder. Another proposed law would allow authorities in member states to order ships to stay in port if "extreme weather conditions" are forecast.

The need for this final option was raised recently by French transport minister Jean-Claude Gayssot, after a chemical tanker sank off France's northwest coast in early November less than a year after the Erika oil tanker broke up. Both ships sank during storms.

Transport commissioner de Palacio used today's publication of the second "Erika proposals" to urge European Union transport ministers and the European Parliament to come to an agreement on the first set as soon as possible.

She pointed out that the Council is allowed to use qualified majority voting to reach a common position on this issue, possibly a criticism of Gayssot's attempts to achieve consensus. There have been reports that the Commission feels Gayssot's consensus approach will lead the Council to adopt a much weaker common position than it otherwise would.


Oil spilled by the tanker Erika washes ashore on the beach in the French province of Loire Atlantique. January 3, 2000 (Photo courtesy Centre of Documentation, Research & Experimentation on Accidental Water Pollution, France)
Creation of a European maritime safety agency may prove controversial with some member states, some of which have already expressed dislike for the idea. But the Commission, which is the executive branch of the European Union, said the agency is needed because of the burgeoning number of safety standards. It said the agency would be small, with staff limited to 50.

The main duties of a safety agency would be to support and monitor member states compliance with EU maritime safety rules, evaluate the effectiveness of the rules, collect data, audit maritime classification societies and inspect member state ports in order to check the conditions under which port state control is carried out.

It is also possible that some of the Commission's latest proposals will receive a less than warm welcome from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), which has criticised European Union and American attempts to impose unilateral maritime safety standards. The IMO argues that the transboundary nature of the shipping industry requires globally uniform laws.


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