European Maritime Safety Agency Empowered to Fight Spills

BRUSSELS, Belgium, August 7, 2003 (ENS) - Motivated by widespread oil
spills that have fouled Europe’s Atlantic coasts, the European Union is
establishing the legal and technical framework required to operate
specialized pollution response ships and equipment for collecting oil
and other noxious substances in the sea.

The European Commission today adopted a proposal for a Regulation of the
Parliament and the Council that would expand the role of the European
Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) to deal with oil and chemical spills in
European waters.

“In the aftermath of the Erika and Prestige disasters, maritime safety
legislation has been drastically improved to guarantee the highest level
of environment protection to European shores and waters,” said the
Commission’s Vice President Loyola de Palacio, who is in charge of

The Commission also proposes to widen the agency’s powers to handle
maritime security. This is justified by increased concerns over the
threat of terrorism and other illicit actions targeting ships and port
installations, the European executive branch said today.

EU Vice President Loyola de Palacio with William O’Neill, chairman of
the International Maritime Organization, April 2003 (Photo courtesy
Office of the Commissioner)

“The widening of the European Maritime Safety Agency’s competence is
today a key step in this strategy to ensure safety and security of
maritime transport,” de Palacio said.
The European Maritime Safety Agency was set up in the aftermath of the
“Erika” disaster. The tanker, chartered by TotalFina, spilled more than
10 million liters (2.6 million gallons) of oil into the ocean on
December 12, 1999, much of which washed up along France’s Atlantic

Winter storms and currents that battered the French coastline turned the
“Erika” oil spill into an environmental catastrophe that affected
fishermen, oyster farmers and the tourism industry as well as more than
100,000 sea birds.

Stricter maritime safety rules proposed by the Commission after the
“Erika” spill, and entered into force on July 22. These two laws tighten
the safety checks and controls of ships undertaken by classification
societies on behalf of EU flag states and those carried out by states
whose ports are visited by the ships. Their objective is to make the
inspection regimes of potentially dangerous ships more rigorous.

But only Denmark, France, Germany, Spain and the UK have made the “Erika
I” rules, as they are known, a part of their national laws. On July 25,
the Commission initiated legal procedings against Austria, Belgium,
Finland, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal
and Sweden for failing to communicate national measures implementing the
two key maritime safety laws.

“Failure to implement these rules can directly affect the quality and
safety of the ships sailing in European waters, of European ships
globally as well as the removal of unsound vessels from the seas,” the
Commission said.

A second set of rules known as the Erika II package is soon to take
effect. It includes the establishment of a monitoring and community
information system, proposed by a law which will enter into force on
February 4, 2004. This will permit a closer surveillance of ships in the
coastal zones of the European Union especially of “at risk” vessels, the
Commission said. It will also lead to the creation of places of refuge
on the coasts as havens for ships in distress.

The Erika II package also created a $US1 billion European indemnity fund
in favor of the victims of oil spills. The International Oil Pollution
Compensation Supplementary Fund was adopted by the International
Maritime Organization in London in May.

The urgency to put cleanup and preventive measures in place increased
when, on November 13, 2002, the Bahamas flagged tanker “Prestige,”
carrying millions of barrels of oil, cracked up during a storm off
Europe’s westernmost point of land, Cape Finisterre, on Spain’s Costa da
Morte, or Coast of Death. Oil leaked from the sunken ship for months.

Some 44,000 oiled birds of 100 species were picked up from Europe’s
North Atlantic coasts and beaches in Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium
and the Netherlands after the “Prestige” spill and a spill from a cargo
carrier, the Tricolor, in December 2002, according to BirdLife
International partner organizations in those countries. Fisheries and
tourism industries were ruined and thousands of people lost their jobs.

Following the “Prestige” accident, further new proposals were tabled by
the Commission including a Regulation to prohibit the transport of heavy
fuel oil by single hull tankers, which in case of sinking, cause the
greatest damage. Both the “Prestige” and the “Erika” were single hulled
vessels, not the safer, more modern double hulled ones.

The Commission shaved five years off the deadline for elimination of
single hulled tankers. No single hulled tanker will be allowed to enter
an EU port after 2010 in place of 2015.

The most hazardous tankers, similar to the “Erika” or to the “Prestige”
will be forbidden entry into EU ports as of the entry into force of
another new regulation. Agreement having already been made on this
text, its final adoption by the Parliament and Council of Ministers in
the next few weeks should enable it to enter into force in September,
the Commission says.

The proposal for another regulation, made in March and awaiting
adoption, would establish criminal penalties for the illegal emptying of
hydrocarbons into the ocean or for major marine pollution.

The European Maritime Safety Agency is provisionally located in
Brussels. Its Administrative Board has been set up, and its Executive
Director, Willem de Ruiter, was nominated early 2003. Auxiliary staff is
already in place, while additional staff is currently being recruited.

Currently the agency handles the collection of information and operation
of data bases on maritime safety, and the evaluation and auditing of
maritime classification societies.

Agency staff organize inspection visits in the EU Member States to
verify Port State Control conditions, enabling national inspectors to
identify more effectively the vessels at risk which should be the
subject of tighter controls.

The agency facilitates the exchange of good practice between EU Member
States and provides technical assistance to the Commission in all areas
relating to maritime safety and the prevention of marine pollution.

The Commission’s proposal to expand the agency’s powers now will be
transmitted to the European Parliament and to the Council of Ministers
for discussion and adoption.

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