IMPORTANT LEGAL NOTICE - The information on this site is subject to adisclaimerand acopyright notice
Contact | Search on EUROPA  


Maritime transport

Measures to support freight transport
18 October 2007


Maritime transport policy

Maritime Safety 

Social aspects

Maritime Careers

Sea Ports

Short Sea Shipping

Maritime Research


Public consultations



  Useful links

European Maritime Safety Agency

Security in
Transport & Energy

Inland waterway

Intermodal transport

Maritime Safety


Developing Maritime Safety for a better protection of the maritime environment

Whilst many flag States and owners are meeting their international obligations, their efforts are constantly undermined by those who do not play the game according to the rules. When operators break the rules on safety and environmental protection, they put crews and the environment at risk and in addition they benefit from unfair competition.

This is a sad reality, despite the existence of a well developed framework of international rules for safety at sea and for the protection of the marine environment, most of them laid down in Conventions developed within the International Maritime Organization and the International Labour Organization.

Considering the existing loopholes in Conventions, the important degree of discretion left to flag States and the existing possibilities to derogate from safety rules for ships in international voyages, the European Community became involved in maritime safety.  

With the strategic importance of shipping to the EU economy - 2 billions tonnes of fret are loaded and unloaded in EU ports every year - and the increase of the maritime traffic going through EU waters - every year 1 billion tonnes of oil are transiting through EU ports and EU waters – the EU is constantly developing and intensifying its maritime safety policy which the aim to eradicate substandard shipping essentially through a convergent application of internationally agreed rules.

Although at Community level a few legislative decisions were taken in the period 1978-1992, maritime safety policy actually started in 1993 with the adoption of the Commission’s first communication on maritime safety: "A Common Policy on Safe Seas".

This breakthrough was a reaction to accidents at sea which occurred in 1992 and 1993 with the oil tankers "Aegean Sea" which ran aground outside La Coruña harbour (Spain) on 3 December 1992 and "Brear" which grounded off the Shetland Island on 5 January 1993. In addition, the change from the unanimity to the qualified majority rule for maritime decision making on 1 November 1993 also provided an appropriate incentive to develop a comprehensive action on maritime safety.

In the framework of the first communication and the implementation of the detailed action programme attached to it, several important legislative acts were proposed and adopted within 5 years. They are still the core of EU’s maritime safety policy.

However, as new disasters occurred in European waters, additional actions focussing on specific shortcomings had to be initiated.

After the "Estonia" tragedy, a Ro-Ro passenger ferry which sunk on 28 September 1994, the Community adopted a comprehensive set of rules for the protection of passengers and crew sailing on ferries operating to an from European ports, as well safety standards for passenger ships operating on domestic voyages within the Community.

In the meantime, EU’s new maritime strategy gave particular attention to « Quality Shipping ». A Charter on « Quality shipping » signed by key players of the maritime sector and the « EQUASIS » system are concrete results of the efforts to promote quality.

The “Erika” and the “Prestige” accidents encouraged the EU to drastically reform its existing regime and to adopt new rules and standards for prevention of accidents at sea, in particular involving oil tankers. The EU considerably reinforced its legislative arsenal to combat flags of convenience and give Europe better protection against the risks of accidental oil spills.



last update: 15-12-2008