Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the 'Proposal for a Council Directive setting up a harmonized safety regime for fishing vessels of 24 metres in length and over'

Official Journal C 066 , 03/03/1997 P. 0031

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the 'Proposal for a Council Directive setting up a harmonized safety regime for fishing vessels of 24 metres in length and over` () (97/C 66/09)

On 12 October 1996 the Council decided to consult the Economic and Social Committee, under Article 84(2) of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the above-mentioned proposal.

The Section for Transport and Communications, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 11 November 1996. The rapporteur was Mr Chagas.

At its 340th Plenary Session (meeting of 27 November 1996), the Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 105 votes to one, with four abstentions.

1. Background

1.1. The 1974 International Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) did not cover fishing vessels. Moves were therefore made to draw up a convention catering for the special characteristics of such vessels, which laid down construction standards for new vessels and standards for equipment with a bearing on vessel safety.

This led to the signing in 1977 of the International Convention for the Safety of Fishing Vessels, generally known as the 1977 Torremolinos Convention.

1.2. However, the 1977 convention never entered into force because it was not ratified by a sufficient number of signatories.

In an effort to overcome objections from countries with large fishing fleets, and to incorporate in the 1977 convention some alterations made in the meantime to the SOLAS Convention, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) revised the 1977 convention. This resulted in the 1993 Torremolinos Protocol.

1.3. Under the protocol, obligatory application of the main chapters of the revised convention is restricted to vessels measuring 45 metres and over (the previous figure was 24 metres and over).

1.4. Since then, and on the basis of the 1977 convention, the Council has adopted Directive 93/103/EC () which sets minimum health and safety requirements for work on board fishing vessels. The directive applies to new vessels with a length of at least 15 metres, and to existing vessels with a length of at least 18 metres.

However, the protocol revising the 1977 convention delayed the implementation of the directive and reduced its effects. By restricting obligatory application to vessels of at least 45 metres, the protocol reduced the number of vessels covered, as 85 % of vessels above 100 GT have a length of between 24 and 45 metres. Despite this, the protocol has not yet been ratified by the number of signatories required for it to enter into force.

2. The Commission proposal

2.1. As Article 3(5) of the Torremolinos Protocol allows for regional arrangements to ensure a uniform and consistent safety regime for all vessels operating in the same area or region, the Commission now proposes to extend, as far as possible, the protocol's requirements for vessels of 45 metres and over to those of between 24 and 45 metres.

2.2. The Commission views the present proposal as a first step to improved safety, establishing harmonized safety standards for fishing vessels flying the flag of a Member State and for third country fishing vessels which operate in Member States' internal or territorial waters or which land their catch in a Member State port.

2.3. The proposal is also intended for the European Economic Area and is of particular relevance to Norway and Iceland.

2.4. In view of the economic impact which the safety requirements would have on existing vessels, the Commission proposes that such vessels should only be subject to the measures already applicable to them under the protocol.

This concerns radio lifesaving appliances, radar transponders, emergency procedures, musters and drills, radiocommunications and shipborne navigational equipment.

2.5. Lastly, the proposal sets out procedures for the issue, by recognized organizations, of certificates of compliance to guarantee attainment of the desired safety level.

3. General comments

3.1. The fisheries sector, with its various subsectors, is highly sensitive and faces serious threats to its survival. The Committee has issued a number of opinions on the sector (). The introduction of new requirements governing vessel construction, safety equipment and procedures on board must thus be weighed up properly so as not to aggravate the problems threatening the survival of the sector. However, minimum safety conditions for the protection of human life, vessels and the marine environment must be guaranteed at the same time. In this light, the Committee welcomes the Commission proposal as it will help to improve fishing safety standards.

3.2. The Commission itself acknowledges that although fishing is a particularly accident-prone activity, there are no EU statistics to ascertain the real extent of the problem.

The Committee calls for appropriate measures to provide an accurate picture of the number and impact of accidents on fishing vessels, including fatalities, industrial accidents and industrial diseases that affect fishermen.

3.3. The Committee supports the setting of regional safety standards under Article 3(5) of the Torremolinos Protocol, and considers that these standards should apply to all Mediterranean and European coastal states. The Commission should encourage the relevant third countries to adhere to these objectives.

3.4. While supporting the aim of making the requirements mandatory for third country vessels which wish to fish in Member States' internal or territorial waters or land their catch at an EU port, the Committee feels that this will be difficult to check. Also, there is no provision for checks on the possibility of substandard vessels transferring their catches to vessels which comply with the protocol, so that they can be landed without difficulty at an EU port. It will be difficult, with existing means, to check that third country vessels comply with the directive. The Commission should encourage Member States to increase these means of checking, both on land and at sea.

3.5. As mentioned in 1.2 above, the 1977 Torremolinos Convention did not enter into force; it was not even ratified by all Member States, despite the existence of a Council recommendation on the subject ().

3.6. The Committee considers it vitally important that, as the Commission proposes, common safety standards and requirements be laid down for fishing vessels measuring 24 metres or more, as an initial step. It also supports the Commission's intention to study measures for existing vessels and for vessels of less than 24 metres on top of the measures already laid down for other vessels. These studies should be issued by 1 January 1998 so that the new proposals which the Commission intends to present can also cover these groups of vessels.

3.7. Only about 4 % of EU fishing vessels (vessels of 24 metres or more in length) will be affected by the proposed measures.

However, in seeking to adopt the Torremolinos Protocol, which reduced the minimum safety standards laid down in the convention, the Commission lays down no common rules for such important safety areas as basic fire-fighting equipment and lifesaving appliances on existing vessels of between 24 and 45 metres. The proposal should also cover these areas.

3.8. The Commission also intends to extend Regulation (EEC) No 613/91 () to fishing vessels. This must not mean that shipowners can opt for a Community register which might interpret certification criteria more flexibly and subsequently get them accepted in another Member State whose standards and certification levels are known to be more stringent.

3.9. Lastly, the Committee thinks that if safety standards on board fishing vessels are to be improved, it is vital that workers in the sector are properly trained. Accordingly, and although this falls outside the scope of the Commission's proposal, the Committee asks the Commission to urge Member States to ratify as soon as possible the 1995 STCW-F Convention laying down the minimum training and certification standards required of workers on board fishing vessels.

4. Specific comments

4.1. Article 1(1)

The proposal also applies to third country vessels operating in the internal or territorial waters of a Member State, i.e. within the 12-mile limit. Given the impossibility of laying down a wider limit in EU legislation, the Committee recommends that the Commission ensure that bilateral agreements with third countries whose vessels are covered by the present proposal extend its application to 200 miles (the EEZs).

4.2. Article 2(1)

It is common practice, notably in some third country fleets, for a vessel to transfer its catch to another, larger vessel which is used solely to transport the fish. Hence, in the definition of 'fishing vessel`, the words 'or transferring and transporting` should be inserted after 'processing`.

4.3. Article 3(2)

The Committee reiterates its concern that the requirements for basic fire-fighting equipment and lifesaving appliances do not apply to existing vessels of between 24 and 45 metres.

4.4. Article 3(4)

The guarantee of the flag state administration that the certification complies with Community requirements does not seem sufficient. Cooperation programmes covering inspection and certification in these countries, in conjunction with inspections by Member States in accordance with Article 9(1), could offer a way round this problem.

4.5. Article 5

Frequent use is made, in the Torremolinos Protocol and elsewhere, of such expressions as 'equivalent measures` or measures 'which satisfy the Administration`. Above and beyond the proposed procedures, the Commission should ensure better coordination between the control mechanisms of the common fisheries policy and port state control, backed by proper training of inspection staff.

4.6. Article 6 (also applicable to Article 5)

The Committee would like to know how the Commission intends to ensure that a similar procedure is applied to third country vessels.

4.7. Articles 7 and 8

Council Directive 94/57/EC () lays down common rules and standards for the bodies authorized to carry out ship inspections and surveys and for the relevant activities of maritime administrations. Whilst recognizing that the classification societies can have an important role to play here, the Committee considers that maritime administrations must play a central role in inspections. The granting of Community support would be justified in order to guarantee a proper level of inspection.

4.8. Articles 10 and 11

The Committee thinks that the procedure for adopting amendments should be as laid down in Article 12(2) and 12(3) of Council Directive 93/75/EC (). This would give Member States a greater say in decisions.

4.9. Article 11

The advisory committee set up under Article 12(1) of the abovementioned directive comprises representatives of the Member States and is chaired by a Commission representative. Provision should also be made for it to include representatives of the social partners; at the very least, they should be consulted in advance.

4.10. Annex II

As already mentioned, the provisions of this annex, particularly those on basic fire-fighting equipment and lifesaving appliances, should also apply to existing vessels.

4.10.1. Annex II, Chapter VII, Regulation 1

A second paragraph should be added to make compliance with certain basic requirements for lifesaving appliances mandatory, regardless of the vessel's date of construction.

4.11. Annex III, 1.1

4.11.1. The Committee thinks that the Baltic Sea should be included.

4.11.2. The Committee considers that the line delimiting the 'Northern` waters should be a stepped line which takes account of the special situations of certain regions, rather than a simple line of latitude.

Brussels, 27 November 1996.

The President of the Economic and Social Committee


() OJ No C 292, 4. 10. 1996, p. 29.

() Council Directive 93/103/EC of 23. 11. 1993 concerning the minimum safety and health requirements for work on board fishing vessels (13th individual Directive within the meaning of Article 16(1) of Directive 89/291/EEC on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work) (OJ No L 307, 13. 12. 1993, p. 1).

() See for example the ESC Own-initiative Opinion on conservation of fishery resources and fishing rights (OJ No C 39, 12. 2. 1996, p. 32).

() Council Recommendation of 23. 9. 1980 on the ratification of the Torremolinos Convention (OJ No L 259, 2. 10. 1980, p. 29).

() Council Regulation (EEC) No 613/91 of 4. 3. 1991 on the transfer of ships from one register to another in the Community (OJ No L 68, 13. 8. 1991, p. 1).

() Council Directive 94/57/EC of 22 November 1994 on common rules and standards for ship inspection and survey organizations and for the relevant activities of maritime administrations (OJ No L 319, 12. 12. 1994, p. 20).

() Council Directive 93/75/EC concerning minimum requirements for vessels bound for or leaving Community ports and carrying dangerous or polluting goods (OJ No L 247, 5. 10. 1993, p. 19).