Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on a second set of community measures on maritime safety following the sinking of the oil tanker ERIKA
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COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND THE COUNCIL ON A SECOND SET OF COMMUNITY MEASURES ON MARITIME SAFETY FOLLOWING THE SINKING OF THE OIL TANKER ERIKA
The sinking of the oil tanker Erika off the French coast in December 1999 spurred new developments in the establishment of Europe's maritime safety policy. Only some three months after the accident, on 21 March 2000, the Commission adopted a "Communication on the safety of the seaborne oil trade" together with a number of proposals for specific measures to prevent such accidents happening again.
The Biarritz European Council called for the speedy adoption of the first "Erika" package and urged the Commission to propose as soon as possible a second set of measures to supplement the three legislative proposals presented on 21 March 2000.
I- Recapitulation of the proposals under consideration by the Council and European Parliament
* A substantial amendment of the existing Directive on port State control in order to step up inspections in ports, as they are currently inadequate. The main points of the proposal concern the banning of sub-standard ships (including drawing up a black list of ships which may no longer enter European Union waters) and more stringent inspections of ships posing a risk, including oil tankers. These changes will require the number of inspection staff in Member States' ports to be increased.
* An amendment of the existing Directive on classification societies, to which Member States delegate a large part of their verification powers, with the general aim of supervising the activities of the societies more closely.
* A proposal for a regulation to generalise the ban on single-hull tankers according to a timetable similar to that set by the USA. This will enable double-hull tankers, which provide better protection against pollution in the event of accidents, to be introduced more quickly. Under this timetable, the use of double hulls will become obligatory for most categories of oil tankers in 2010.
The Commission drew the attention of the Transport Council at its meeting of 2 October to the importance of ensuring that a weakening of its proposal on port State control did not result in a halving of the number of hazardous ships that would be subject to more stringent mandatory inspection in EU ports if the Presidency compromise was adopted.
With regard to the proposed regulation on double-hull oil tankers, a joint approach within the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) found support in October 2000 for amending the international rules in force. The IMO plans to adopt measures similar to those advocated by the European Union in April 2001. The Council should therefore adopt a common position at its meeting of 21 December to ensure that Community legislation at all events enters into force before the IMO rules, which may take several years.
The Community institutions must speed up their work if the Nice European Council is to be able to ascertain agreement on the three texts at the end of the year. The Presidents of the Council and of the European Parliament have again called for speedier adoption of these measures following the wreck of the chemical carrier Ievoli Sun on 31 October 2000.
II - A second set of measures to bring about a lasting improvement in the protection of European waters against the risk of accidents at sea and marine pollution.
1) Measures to improve the safety of shipping and prevent pollution from ships
The safety of shipping in European waters is of crucial importance: 90% of the European Union's trade with third countries is seaborne. The risk of accidents due to the concentration of traffic in the main European seaways is particularly high in areas where the traffic converges, such as the Dover Strait or the Strait of Gibraltar. Furthermore, the environmental consequences of an accident at sea, which can also occur outside areas of high traffic density (as in the Erika case), can be disastrous for the economy and the environment of the Member States concerned.
Even after the first package of measures is adopted, sub-standard ships may escape inspection in the European Union. Moreover, Directive 93/75/EEC laying down notification requirements for vessels carrying dangerous or polluting goods, as it stands, is inadequate for the purposes of identifying and closely monitoring ships, in particular those in transit off Europe's coasts. The European Union must therefore acquire the means to monitor and control more effectively the traffic off its coasts and to take more effective action in the event of critical situations arising at sea.
The proposal provides in particular for:
- improving the identification of ships heading for European ports and monitoring all ships in transit in areas of high traffic density or hazardous to shipping, and requiring ships sailing in Community waters to carry transponder systems so that they can be automatically identified and constantly monitored by the coastal authorities;
- extending the reporting requirements already provided for by Directive 93/75/EEC to other dangerous or polluting goods and in particular to bunker fuels carried on board, given the highly polluting nature of these products;
- simplifying and harmonising the procedures relating to the transmission and use of data on dangerous or polluting goods carried by ships, notably through the systematic use of electronic data interchange (EDI);
- requiring ships calling at Community ports to carry black boxes (or voyage data recorders), in order to facilitate the investigation of accidents, and thereby contribute to improving accident prevention policy. These black boxes will be made mandatory sooner and more extensively (cargo ships and ships on domestic voyages) than required by IMO standards;
- stepping up the development of common databases and the interconnection of the stations responsible for managing the information gathered under the Directive;
- ensuring closer monitoring of ships posing a particularly serious threat to maritime safety and the environment and requiring information about them to be circulated among Member States, to enable the latter to identify dangerous situations sooner and take any preventive action necessary in respect of such ships;
- enhancing the powers of intervention of Member States, as coastal States, where there is an accident hazard or threat of pollution off their coasts (territorial waters and the high seas). Member States will thus be able to order the re-routing of a ship posing a threat to their coasts, to instruct the ship's master to stop a pollution risk, to put an assessment team on board or to impose mandatory pilotage or towage of the ship;
- requiring Member States to take measures to receive ships in distress in ports of refuge, and prohibit ships from leaving ports in exceptional weather conditions involving a serious threat to safety or the environment.
2) Improving the liability and damage compensation schemes in force
Since the 1970s, the international community has drawn up international conventions under the auspices of the IMO laying down detailed rules on liability and compensation for damage in the event of pollution caused by tanker ships.
The Commission's proposal complements the existing international two-tier regime on liability and compensation for oil pollution damage by tankers by creating a European supplementary fund, the COPE Fund, to compensate victims of oil spills in European waters. The COPE Fund will only compensate victims whose claims have been considered justified, but who have nevertheless been unable to obtain full compensation under the international regime, owing to insufficient compensation limits. The current ceiling is EUR 200 million.
Compensation from the COPE fund would thus be based on the same principles and rules as the current international fund system, but subject to a ceiling which is deemed to be sufficient for any foreseeable disaster, i.e. EUR 1 000 million. The COPE Fund could also be used to speed up the payment of full compensation to the victims.
The COPE fund will be financed by European oil receivers. Any person in a Member State who receives more than 150 000 tonnes of crude oil and/or heavy fuel oil per year will have to pay its contribution to the COPE Fund, in a proportion which corresponds to the amounts of oil received.
The COPE Fund will only be activated once an accident that exceeds, or threatens to exceed, the maximum limit provided by the IOPC Fund has occurred in EU waters. If no such accident occurs, the COPE Fund will not require any contributions to be made.
The proposed regulation, in addition to the provisions on liability set out above, includes an article introducing financial penalties for grossly negligent behaviour by any person involved in the transport of oil by sea. This penalty will be imposed by Member States outside the scope of liability and compensation and will thus not be affected by any limitation of liability.
3) A European Maritime Safety Agency
In the space of a few years, a large body of legislation on maritime safety has been enacted. Member States must implement these rules effectively and uniformly, notably by approximating the procedures and practices applying to inspection in ports and technical checks on the condition of ships; they must also recruit a considerable number of inspectors, since the number of ships posing a risk actually checked, some 700 in 1999, should increase to 6 000 when the Commission proposals enter into force.
The creation of a European Maritime Safety Agency would provide the Commission and Member States with support in applying and monitoring compliance with Community law and in assessing the effectiveness of the measures in place. The Agency will have a staff of about 50, mainly with a background in the national maritime administrations and the industry.
In its proposal, the Commission sets out the following tasks for the Agency, the organisation and role of which are largely based on the Aviation Safety Agency:
- technical assistance in preparing proposals for amendments to the Community legislative texts, particularly in the light of changes in the international rules;
- on-the-spot inspections of the conditions under which port State control is carried out by Member States;
- organisation of appropriate training activities;
- collection of data and operation of databases on safety at sea that will, among other things, enable the Commission to draw up a "black list" of sub-standard shipping. All the information will be placed at the disposal of Member States' inspectors, who will thus immediately have at their fingertips all the data relating to a ship and so be able to detain it if necessary;
- tasks relating to the monitoring of shipping and the management of traffic data;
- assessment and auditing of the classification societies;
- participation in, or coordination of, activities relating to investigations following an accident at sea;
- provision of assistance to the EU candidate countries, in order to assess the manner in which their maritime administrations meet their obligations as flag States and port States.
This set of measures supplementing the first package forms a coherent whole that should significantly enhance maritime safety in European Union waters and ports. The Commission would urge the European Parliament and the Council to adopt the three legislative proposals in this communication as soon as possible in order to enable specific action to be taken quickly.