Parliament deplores national resistance to sea-safety rules

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A package of legislative measures aimed at protecting Europe from maritime accidents and pollution looks likely to face a special ‘last chance’ conciliation procedure as the European Parliament yesterday (24 September) refused to give in to national governments’ attempts to water down the new rules.

Parliament’s main demands include: 

  • Making strict International Maritime Organisation (IMO) rules on flag-state obligations compulsory for all member states to ensure that all ships sailing under an EU flag comply with international safety standards. But governments have simply thrown out this proposal, arguing it would generate too many additional costs for their administrations. They insist the issue should continue to be dealt with at IMO level, leaving them a much larger degree of discretion. But Green MEP Michael Cramer commented: “It is absurd that member states are trying to block European legislation by referring to rules in the IMO, which they have not adopted into national legislation themselves. Action is needed now before Europe is hit by another disaster at sea.” 
  • Strengthened provisions on the liability of ship operators and compensation for damage to third parties in the event of accidents – a move member states are blocking (EURACTIV 08/06/08). 
  • Tougher ship inspection regimes in ports, including the right to permanently ban substandard ships, while the Council wants bans to be temporary. 
  • The designation of an independent authority in each country with sole responsibility for reacting to accidents at sea and the capacity to impose decisions about where ships should be taken in for salvage and repair operations (so-called ‘places of refuge’). “Successive disasters and near-disasters have shown that much time is often wasted because it was not clear who was responsible for what,” stressed MEPs, adding that if independent authorities exist for investigating aviation incidents, they should also exist for maritime accidents. But member states are particularly opposed to this 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. 

“The two missing files on flag state obligations and civil liability should no longer blocked by Council,” stressed a Parliament statement, urging transport ministers to give “a clear formal signal that substantial progress on the whole package should be made” when they meet on 8 October. 

Otherwise, the Parliament stressed its willingness to resume negotiations in an informal trilogue ahead of the expected conciliation procedure. 

Belgian Liberal MEP Dirk Sterckx, who is parliamentary coordinator of the whole package, stressed: “We need this system if we want to avoid a disaster like Prestige or Erika” oil tankers, which sunk off the French coast spilling tens of thousands of oil into the sea (EURACTIV 17/01/08). 

He further expressed regret that the EPP-ED group had succeeded in “sinking” a clause that would have extended the safety measures to inland navigation. “It is a pity that the EPP Group did not share this view and considered that travellers on a river or lake do not deserve the same safety as those travelling by sea,” he said.

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