Erika Inquiry Demands Tough "Black" Oil Rules

PARIS, France, January 14, 2000 (ENS) - An official French report on the December 12 shipwreck of the oil tanker Erika off the coast of France has called for tighter controls on the transport of "black" oil products such as the heavy fuel oil spilled by the Maltese-registered ship.

A government committee (CPEM) joined the European Commission in calling for stricter maritime safety standards. Its report, released today, says that tankers carrying black products - fuel oil, tar and crude oil - should be subject to the same safety requirements as ships transporting more volatile "white" products - naptha, kerosene, petrol and gasoline.

Black products are considered worse pollutants than white ones but are less of an explosive risk.

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Stern of the Erika after the shipwreck (Photo courtesy French Ministry of Defense)
The report also recommends that French oil firms - like Totalfina, which owned the Erika's cargo of fuel oil - should favor French carriers when hiring tankers.

In addition, the CPEM calls on Malta to introduce a list of all ships registered on the island and to set up a national maritime inspection service. At present, routine inspections on ships are carried out by private companies with no regular controls.

Meanwhile, the Council of Europe based in Strasbourg, France today called for the polluter pays principle to be applied to all parties involved in the Erika disaster. The environment committee of the 41-nation bloc said there was an urgent need to ensure that every company involved in hiring the Erika is made to pay for environmental damage caused by the oil spill.

Under current international law, the carrier and not the owner of the cargo carries liability.

The ship's owner is Italian Panship Management; it was chartered by TotalFina, a French oil company.

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Bird caught by Erika's oil (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd Conservation Society)
The Erika, loaded with over 30,884 tons, of heavy oil broke in two in gale force winds and heavy seas December 12. Her journey began in Rotterdam; her destination was Livorno, Italy.

Both sections of the tanker sank. About 10,000 tons of oil spilled into the sea. It hit the coast on Christmas Day and has fouled the French shore from Quiberon south to La Tremblade. About 300,000 seabirds have been killed with roughly 30,000 rescued and cleaned. Endangered gray seals on the island of "Belle L'il" have been affected.

During a visit to the coast to view the oil damage on December 28, French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin pledged to work for tougher international regulations on oil tanker operations when France assumes the presidency of the European Union in the second half of next year.

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{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. Email: envdaily@ends.co.uk}