The European Parliament is heading for a clash with member states after it pushed through new rules on flag-state compliance and the civil liability of shipowners, despite opposition from governments.
MEPs in the Transport Committee yesterday (4 September) near-unanimously adopted five of the seven legislative reports contained in the so-called ‘Erika III package’, designed to improve safety at sea and avert similar disasters to those caused by the sinking of the Erika and Prestige oil tankers (EURACTIV 17/01/08).
They could not vote on the other two proposals relating to flag state obligations – i.e. the duty of countries to ensure that ships flying their flag meet certain safety standards – and ship operator liability because the two dossiers are being blocked by a group of member states.
“Over a year after Parliament’s April 2007 first-reading vote on seven proposals to protect Europe against maritime accidents and pollution, transport ministers are still blocking two – on flag state obligations and civil liability – and have not taken up most of Parliament’s recommendations on the other five,” MEPs lamented in a Parliament press release issued yesterday.
But the committee does not intend to back down on this issue and is attempting to push through some of the main features of the flag state and civil liability proposals by including them in the five other reports.
What’s more, MEPs dashed national governments’ hopes of watering down the other proposals by reinserting all the key amendments from their first reading (EURACTIV 29/03/08), which the Transport Council had subsequently ignored (EURACTIV 08/06/08).
“Maritime safety has always been Parliament’s priority,” stressed MEPs, adding that they “did not want the Council to water down important suggestions on port state control, a Community vessel traffic monitoring system, accident investigation, the liability boat passenger carriers and ship inspection and survey organisations”.
MEPs’ main demands include making strict International Maritime Organisation (IMO) rules on flag-state obligations compulsory for all member states, as well as making shipowners fully liable for damage to third parties in the event of accidents, so that victims are properly compensated.
They are also insisting on tougher ship inspection regimes in ports, as well as the creation of independent authorities in each country that would have sole responsibility for reacting to accidents at sea, with the capacity to impose independent decisions about where ships should be taken in for salvage and repair operations (so-called ‘places of refuge’).
Member states are particularly opposed to this last measure as they fear it would expose their coastlines and ports to unwelcome financial and environmental risk. They want to retain the capacity to refuse to assist vessels that lack sufficient financial guarantees.
As regards ship inspection regimes, at least ten member states are arguing that the Commission and MEPs’ tough proposals would impose too many additional costs for their administrations. They want flag state obligations to continue to be dealt with at IMO level, leaving them a much larger degree of discretion. They also oppose plans to make them inspect 100% of all individual ships, saying this would be too costly and hard to police, insisting they should be allowed to miss up to 10% of inspections (see EURACTIV 12/12/06).
The full plenary will vote on the reports on 24 September in Brussels. “If the Council does not accept Parliament’s second-reading verdict and makes no progress on the two missing files, then a conciliation procedure cannot be excluded,” warned MEPs.