Europe Blacklists 66 Vessels to Avert Another Spill

BRUSSELS, Belgium, December 5, 2002 (ENS) - In the wake of the fuel oil spill from the tanker "Prestige," in November, the European Commission has published a "black list" of 66 substandard ships that would be banned from European waters under forthcoming European maritime safety rules.

The list includes gas and chemical tankers, bulk carriers, oil tankers and passenger ships flying the flags of 13 countries that have been detained more than once in European Union ports for safety reasons in the past three years.


Spanish workers deal with the mess left by the "Prestige" on a beach near Muxia, near Cape Finsterre, the westernmost point of land in Europe. (Photo John Cunningham)
Of the 66 blacklisted vessels, Turkey has 26 on the list, more than any other country. St. Vincent & Grenadines is next with 12 ships, then comes Cambodia with nine substandard vessels. Algeria, Panama, and Sao Tome and Principe each have three ships on the list; Bolivia, Egypt, and Romania each have two; and Honduras, Lebanon, Morocco, and Syria each have one.

Such a list was part of a wide ranging maritime safety package put together after the sinking of the Erika oil tanker off the French coast in December 1999. The Commission has brought forward its release date from mid-2003.

On Friday, Danish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Economic and Business Affairs Bendt Bendtsen will chair a Council meeting of the EU Ministers responsible for maritime affairs, who will meet in order to agree on tougher safety regulations for oil tankers.

The Danish EU Presidency aims to reach an agreement on new effective initiatives towards single hulled tankers, tougher government control in port, agreements with the shipping companies and emergency ports.


Danish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Economic and Business Affairs Bendt Bendtsen (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
"I would like to express my deepest concern over the serious accident of the oil tanker "Prestige." I would like to emphasise that stronger safety measures as regards maritime accidents is an important issue, which the EU has to deal with," Bendtsen said today.

The swiftly produced package of emergency measures will be sent for approval to the European Parliament and to the European Council, which is meeting next week in Copenhagen.

The Commission is also proposing a regulation banning the transport of heavy fuel oil in single-hulled oil tankers bound for or leaving EU ports. Although single-hulled tankers are being phased out progressively by 2015, the Commission is seeking approval from the European Council for this specific ban to apply immediately, in a bid to avoid a repeat of the Prestige disaster.

In addition, the EU executive wants to resurrect a proposal to impose a penalty on any individual causing a pollution incident through negligence. This measure was included in the draft Erika package and approved by the European parliament, but subsequently dropped by the council.

Member states are being urged to speed up implementation of existing and forthcoming EU rules on maritime safety outlined in the Erika packages, without waiting for their official deadlines. In particular, the Commission is pressing member states to recruit sufficient inspectors to be able to check 25 percent of ships calling at EU ports, in line with current legislation.

Last week France and Spain signed a bilateral agreement to inspect all single-hulled vessels more than 15 years old and carrying any substance that could pose a threat to their coastlines.


Greenpeace volunteer picks his way across an oily Galician beach. (Photo John Cunningham)
The Commission has already accelerated the planned creation of a European Maritime Safety Agency, provisionally set up in Brussels, with the first meeting of its administrative board taking place this week. The appointment of its executive director is scheduled for January 2003.

Work is also advanced on SafeSeaNet, an EU wide vessel monitoring system that will provide real time information on the identity and location of ships.

"Words are not enough: it is necessary to act and apply the maritime safety measures in full. Safety is the responsibility of everyone, and strict application of all the measures is the only way of ensuring that substandard ships do not fall through the safety net" said Loyola de Palacio, European vice-president with special responsibility for transport and energy.

"We also need to thoroughly amend the international rules, in particular in terms of criminal and financial liability," she said. "However, only by speaking with one voice within the International Maritime Organization (IMO) can we have a bigger say."

At IMO headquarters in London this week and next, maritime security issues and bulk carrier safety are high on the agenda of IMO's Maritime Safety Committee, which meets through December 13 under the chairmanship of Tom Allan from the United Kingdom, concurrently with a Diplomatic Conference on Maritime Security.

The Committee is expected to establish a working group to review submissions by governments and international organizations on the various formal safety assessment studies on bulk carrier safety which are now completed.


Greenpeace activists sample spilled crude oil from the sunken tanker "Prestige." (Photo courtesy )
The Committee is expected to review the preliminary list of 25 recommendations for decision making established at the last session, with a view to drawing up a definitive list of recommendations for regulatory action.

The Committee will review hull envelope issues such as double hull and side-skin construction, improved coatings, steel repair standards, corrosion margins of hold frames, forecastles, bulwark/breakwater structures, ballast system capacity, protection of foredeck fittings, strength and corrosion control of hold frames, and coating of internal side skins.

The Committee will review the progress report on the draft Guidelines on places of refuge for ships in need of assistance, an issue that is highlighted in view of the "Prestige" sinking. The Guidelines state what actions should be taken by ships' Masters, coastal States and Flag States in cases where ships are in need of assistance. They also recommend the establishment by coastal States of Maritime Assistance Services to be mobilized in relevant cases.

The IMO's work on places of refuge followed an incident involving the fully laden tanker "Castor" which, in December 2000, developed a structural problem in the Mediterranean Sea. IMO Secretary-General William O'Neil suggested that the time had come for the organization to undertake, as a matter of priority, a global consideration of the problem of places of refuge for disabled vessels and adopt any measures required in the interests of safety of life at sea and environmental protection.

{ENDS Environment Daily contributed to this report. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London}