De Palacio leads fight for tougher shipping rules

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Series Details Vol 7, No.16, 19.4.01, p16
Publication Date 19/04/2001
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Date: 19/04/01

By Renee Cordes

THE latest oil spill in EU waters has given the European Commission fresh ammunition in its bid to improve maritime safety.

Some 1,900 tonnes of oil escaped into the sea off the Danish coast last month, when a chemical tanker collided with a bulk carrier. A day later, Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio pleaded with EU leaders to reach agreement quickly on a batch of tough new measures.

"After one more tragic tanker accident polluting the coast of a member state, I would like to stress again the high priority of the Commission's proposals, which should be implemented as soon as possible," she said.

De Palacio unveiled two sets of measures more than a year ago in the wake of the Erika oil tanker spill off the French coast. The 25-year-old single-hull vessel broke in two, releasing 100,000 tonnes of oil, damaging 400 kilometres of the Brittany coast.

EU governments and the European Parliament are expected to reach agreement in the next few weeks on the first package of measures, known as Erika I. These would toughen up port inspections, introduce better controls for ship classification societies and gradually phase out single-hull tankers - replacing them with safer, double-hull versions.

But progress on the EU executive's second package of proposals is being held up by a debate over costs to industry. Ship-owners are resisting attempts to require all vessels sailing in Union waters to carry 'black boxes' like those used on airplanes. Alfons Guinier, secretary-general of the European Community Shipowners' Association, said it would be expensive to install the recording devices on older ships.

He also questions the value of these devices in improving safety - a sentiment echoed by many member states. Even so, ship-owners argue that this is a matter better regulated by the International Maritime Organisation, which is also moving to ban single-hull tankers world-wide. Otherwise, industry fears it will be at a competitive disadvantage.

The second set of measures, Erika II, also calls for the establishment of a European pollution damage fund to provide compensation of up to €1 billion for victims. The ceiling under existing rules is €200 million.

A Commission spokesman dismissed industry's arguments that these measures would incur unnecessary additional costs, especially for smaller shipping companies. He said: "Maritime safety should be a priority for everybody."

Article forms part of a survey on the environment.

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