Oil pollution prevention measures in EU shipping safety rules

European coastlines and marine environments were given extra protection from oil spills this week when Member States agreed to international maritime safety rules.

The final Transport Council meeting of the year strengthened EU maritime safety rules by expanding the application of the International Safety Management code. The rules will apply to all ships sailing in EU waters – cargo, passengers, and drilling installation – regardless of the flag they may fly.

Guidelines will cover crewmember knowledge and experience, mandatory safety procedures and on-board contingency plans, and regular inspections of the state of vessel maintenance, and will serve safety as well as the environment.

The rules are designed to prevent any repeats of disasters such as the Prestige tanker which sank off the coast of Spain (see related story) in 2002, and the Erika which sank off the coast of France in 2000 (see related story).

The talks also touched on revising the global oil fund and liability treaties, which lay down rules for financial compensation and liability in the event of damage and pollution caused by oil, but did not reach any conclusions.

A statement on the conclusions of the meeting stated that the European Presidency “stresses, in the interests of victims, the need to ensure appropriate compensation for damage caused by oil pollution from ships by actively working to ensure that effective financial responsibility is exercised on the part of those involved in transportation of oil by sea, and the need for appropriate revision of the relevant provisions of the 1992 Civil Liability (CLC) and 1992 International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund Conventions.”

However, Reuters reported that the idea of a minimum punishment for ship captains responsible for pollution was dropped after objections from seafaring nations Malta, Greece and Cyprus. Instead, ambassadors agreed that Member states and the EC would seek agreement to include such punishments in international maritime conventions.

In related news, Greenpeace has warned of serious environmental contamination of Asian beaches as a result of the global phase-out of single hull tankers after the Erika and Prestige disasters.

Many of these ships end up being taken to developing countries for scrapping in yards which do not have the facilities to deal with them (see related story). As a result, much of the residue oils and toxic lubricants often spill out endangering human health and the environment.

The organisation is calling on the EU, which is responsible for one-third of such tankers, to take urgent action to protect human health in these countries.

“The EU successfully achieved the global phase-out of single hull oil tankers. It now needs to ensure proper follow-up, so that the problem is not simply exported to vulnerable workers in developing world shipyards,” said Marietta Harjono of Greenpeace International.

Under the Basel Convention, ships can be considered as hazardous waste and, unless decontaminated, are forbidden from being exported by OECD to non-OECD countries.

By David Hopkins

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