MEPs stand firm on stricter ship-safety rules

Parliament has approved measures to increase safety at sea in hope of averting similar disasters to those caused by the sinking of the Erika and Prestige oil tankers. Member states now want more flexibility for ship inspections and dealing with vessels in distress.

The goal of the five legislative reports, adopted by MEPs on 25 April 2007, is to strengthen existing rules aimed at preventing and controlling the effects of shipping accidents. 

The measures include tightening ship-inspection regimes so as to control 100% of vessels entering European ports, with more frequent checks for high-profile ships, which include all those over 12 years old. Member states say this will be too costly and hard to police and want to be allowed to miss up to 10% of inspections (see EURACTIV 12/12/06).

MEPs also backed proposals to ensure that all passengers who suffer an accident are appropriately compensated. However, plans to include inland waterway and domestic traffic in the legislation were voted down, due to fears that provisions requiring ship-owners to carry liability per passenger up to €480,000 would hurt small tourist operators using Europe’s canals. 

The rules would also create independent bodies for investigating accidents, designating places of refuge for ships in distress and supervising “classification societies”, the private bodies which can be authorised by member states to carry out inspection and certification tasks on ships flying their flag. But member states are reluctant to hand over authority on such key issues for their industry and their coastlines and ports. 

Although German Parliamentary State Secretary Karin Roth said that she was confident that important parts of the package could be concluded before July 2007 under the German Presidency, a number of member states, with strong national maritime interests, such as Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Malta, could oppose the plans as they stand, prolonging the legislative procedure for another few months.

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