Ships that pose risks could be blacklisted under maritime safety package approved by European parliament.
Taking its name from the oil tanker than sank off France in 1999, the Erika III package lays down rules for inspecting ships, responding to emergencies and investigating accidents. It includes measures on civil liability and the duties of countries to ensure that ships flying their flag meet safety standards.
The new rules are designed to prevent a recurrence of disasters like the Prestige oil spill in November 2002. That tanker sprang a leak during a storm off north-western Spain. Like the Erika, the Prestige was denied a port of refuge where it could transfer its cargo – 77 000 tons of heavy fuel. Ordered back out to sea, it sank in the Atlantic about 250km from Spain.
Older single-hulled tankers like the Erika and the Prestige have since been banned in the EU.
Under the new legislation:
• decisions about where ships in distress should go must be taken independently
• all ships calling at European ports will be inspected. Ships that pose risks will be checked more often and those that repeatedly breach rules can be banned
• organisations that certify ship safety will be subject to audits
• a European centre will be established to monitor ship traffic and all EU countries will be linked via SafeSeaNet, the maritime information exchange network
• national maritime authorities will be audited to ensure that they enforce international standards for ships sailing under their flag
• there will be guidelines for investigating shipping accidents
• a compulsory insurance scheme will cover damages from accidents. Ship operators will be liable for damages suffered by passengers.
Transport commissioner Antonio Tajani called the measures a “strong response” to growing public concern about the seaworthiness of ships in EU waters. Ship owners, operators, crews and shore authorities will all bear a greater responsibility for preventing accidents, he said.
A major maritime power, the EU accounts for 25% of the global fleet. Ships carry about 40% of the EU’s internal trade and almost all external trade. Every year more than 400m passengers pass through EU ports and some 3.5bn tonnes of cargo are loaded and unloaded.