Maritime Safety Agency Empowered to Fight Spills
BRUSSELS, Belgium, August 7, 2003 (ENS) - Motivated by widespread
spills that have fouled Europe’s Atlantic coasts, the European
establishing the legal and technical framework required to operate
specialized pollution response ships and equipment for collecting
and other noxious substances in the sea.
The European Commission today adopted a proposal for a Regulation
Parliament and the Council that would expand the role of the
Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) to deal with oil and chemical spills
“In the aftermath of the Erika and Prestige disasters, maritime
legislation has been drastically improved to guarantee the highest
of environment protection to European shores and waters,” said
Commission’s Vice President Loyola de Palacio, who is in charge
The Commission also proposes to widen the agency’s powers to
maritime security. This is justified by increased concerns over
threat of terrorism and other illicit actions targeting ships and
installations, the European executive branch said today.
EU Vice President Loyola de Palacio with William O’Neill,
the International Maritime Organization, April 2003 (Photo
Office of the Commissioner)
“The widening of the European Maritime Safety Agency’s
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
“Erika” disaster. The tanker, chartered by TotalFina, spilled
10 million liters (2.6 million gallons) of oil into the ocean on
December 12, 1999, much of which washed up along France’s
Winter storms and currents that battered the French coastline
“Erika” oil spill into an environmental catastrophe that
fishermen, oyster farmers and the tourism industry as well as more
100,000 sea birds.
Stricter maritime safety rules proposed by the Commission after
“Erika” spill, and entered into force on July 22. These two
the safety checks and controls of ships undertaken by
societies on behalf of EU flag states and those carried out by
whose ports are visited by the ships. Their objective is to make
inspection regimes of potentially dangerous ships more rigorous.
But only Denmark, France, Germany, Spain and the UK have made the
I” rules, as they are known, a part of their national laws. On
the Commission initiated legal procedings against Austria,
Finland, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands,
and Sweden for failing to communicate national measures
two key maritime safety laws.
“Failure to implement these rules can directly affect the
safety of the ships sailing in European waters, of European ships
globally as well as the removal of unsound vessels from the seas,”
A second set of rules known as the Erika II package is soon to
effect. It includes the establishment of a monitoring and
information system, proposed by a law which will enter into force
February 4, 2004. This will permit a closer surveillance of ships
coastal zones of the European Union especially of “at risk”
Commission said. It will also lead to the creation of places of
on the coasts as havens for ships in distress.
The Erika II package also created a $US1 billion European
in favor of the victims of oil spills. The International Oil
Compensation Supplementary Fund was adopted by the International
Maritime Organization in London in May.
The urgency to put cleanup and preventive measures in place
when, on November 13, 2002, the Bahamas flagged tanker
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
Some 44,000 oiled birds of 100 species were picked up from
North Atlantic coasts and beaches in Spain, Portugal, France,
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
tourism industries were ruined and thousands of people lost their
Following the “Prestige” accident, further new proposals were
the Commission including a Regulation to prohibit the transport of
fuel oil by single hull tankers, which in case of sinking, cause
greatest damage. Both the “Prestige” and the “Erika” were
vessels, not the safer, more modern double hulled ones.
The Commission shaved five years off the deadline for elimination
single hulled tankers. No single hulled tanker will be allowed to
an EU port after 2010 in place of 2015.
The most hazardous tankers, similar to the “Erika” or to the
will be forbidden entry into EU ports as of the entry into force
another new regulation. Agreement having already been made on this
text, its final adoption by the Parliament and Council of
the next few weeks should enable it to enter into force in
the Commission says.
The proposal for another regulation, made in March and awaiting
adoption, would establish criminal penalties for the illegal
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
Director, Willem de Ruiter, was nominated early 2003. Auxiliary
already in place, while additional staff is currently being
Currently the agency handles the collection of information and
of data bases on maritime safety, and the evaluation and auditing
maritime classification societies.
Agency staff organize inspection visits in the EU Member States to
verify Port State Control conditions, enabling national inspectors
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
States and provides technical assistance to the Commission in all
relating to maritime safety and the prevention of marine pollution.
The Commission’s proposal to expand the agency’s powers now
transmitted to the European Parliament and to the Council of
for discussion and adoption.
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