Behavior Key to Preventing Oil Spills at Sea
February 19, 2004 (ENS) - The European Union's response to recent
maritime disasters had missed the key point - the human factor,
the European Parliament's Temporary Committee on Safety at Sea was
told on Wednesday.
Eduardo Chagas, of the
Maritime Transport Section of the European Transport Workers'
Federation (ETF), told the committee that the prime causes of
tanker casualties like the "Prestige" oil spill off the
Galician coast of Spain in November 2002, and the
"Erika" spill off the Brittany coast of France in
December 1999, were not structural but human.
The European Union has
responded by passing laws that ban the transport of heavy oils in
single hull vessels, phase out single hull tankers entirely, and
impose a set of restrictions on all tankers based on the age of
collisions, situations closely related to human behavior,
accounted for almost 50 percent of incidents, while only around 11
percent were related to hull failure, Chagas told the Members of
the European Parliament (MEPs). He urged that human conditions in
the maritime sector should be taken more seriously, especially in
Flags of convenience
and false certificates for merchant navy officers were the issues
that most needed to be tackled, Chagas said.
representative told the astonished lawmakers that one of his
colleagues had managed to "buy" an official captain's
certificate in Panama by just sending a fax with some personal
data and paying a certain amount of money.
Chagas also expressed
concern about the tendency to criminalize seafarers such as the
master of the oil tanker "Prestige," which sank off the
Spanish coast on November 19, 2002.
More than a year later,
Captain Apostolos Mangouras is still under detention in Spain,
held against a bail of three million euros, and Chagas says that
"We believe this
case provides another example of masters and officers becoming a
convenient scapegoat for an accident in the absence of other
accessible parties and has highlighted once again the need for
internationally agreed measures to protect seafarers from unjust
criminalization," said Chagas.
For thousands of
today's international seafarers life at sea is "a modern form
of slavery" and their workplace is "a slave ship."
The debate generated
by the "Prestige" is in grave danger of missing the key
point, said the ETF representative, that it pays to run a
Chagas urged MEPs to
press the Commission to take account of human element issues when
drafting the "Erika III package" announced for this year.
The Erika sank off the French Atlantic coast, spreading 15,000
tons of oil along the coast of southern Brittany during the winter
of 1999. A report issued by the European Union blamed the poor
condition of the ship for the spill, but Chagas said humans were
Two Spanish professors,
Fernando Gonzalez Laxe of the University of La Coruna and Juan
Zamora Terres of the Technical University of Catalonia, gave their
view on the disaster with the "Prestige" off the
Laxe told MEPs that 50
percent of ships on the world's oceans today are sailing under a
flag of convenience, 70 percent of oil tankers still are
single-hull tankers and about 40 percent of vessels are more than
20 years old. It was of great importance that practice of buying a
ship and using it for a short period should be stopped.
Chagas agreed. There
are many "free riders" running vessels all over the
world, he said, therefore, the role of flag states should come
under the spotlight, as many flag states do not even enforce
minimum international standards.
Terres called on the
European Union and the Member States to make their maritime
administration more professional, so that the system of flags of
convenience could finally be stopped.
Mukherjee of the Malmo World Maritime University also told the
panel that the human factor in maritime safety and environmental
protection is vital.
At the center of
global concern over maritime safety and environmental protection
is the human element in all its facets, Mukherjee said, urging
"serious review" of the status of the seafaring
profession at all levels and in all parts of the world including
A range of other
experts appeared before the committee. Speaking for the French
shipowners' organization Armateurs de France, Edouard Berlet said
French shipowners have adopted a Blue Charter aimed at improving
maritime safety on a voluntary basis.
The same message came
from Jan Koperniecki, chairman of the Oil Companies International
Maritime Forum. He claimed his organization would not have used a
25 year old tanker like the "Prestige" but he also
insisted that the key to improved maritime safety is active
enforcement of existing law.
President-in-Office Dermot Ahern and Captain Liam Kirwan of the
Irish Coastguard explained how the Irish authorities dealt with
maritime disasters, while Robin Middleton, UK Secretary of State
Representative, described the British approach.
On behalf of the
Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, Anne Christiane
Brusendorff informed MEPs about the special problems of maritime
safety in the Baltic Sea, where oil tankers, in particular from
the Russian Federation, pose a serious risk to the environment.
The 44 member
Temporary Committee on Safety at Sea was established by the
European Parliament in November 2003 for a term of six months.
Its job is to examine
in detail recent maritime disasters, in particular the
"Prestige" and the "Erika."
The panel is tasked
with analysis of the social and economic consequences of these
disasters, with regard to fisheries, industry and tourism, as well
as the environment and health.
The committee will
assess maritime safety standards more generally and the
application of these standards by the European Union member states
in compliance with EU and international law, and propose any
measures it believes are necessary in its report due later this
Link : http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/feb2004/2004-02-19-04.asp