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November 24, 2005

EC unveils new maritime safety proposals

The number of ships denied entry to European Union ports could rise from about ten a year to more than 200 under the so called "Erika III" proposals just unveiled by the European Commission. The package also contains proposals that could lead to fines for classification societies and to pilots playing a role in port state control.

You can access the proposals here. In the meantime, INTERTANKO has issued the following comments.

INTERTANKO says the new package "will set the maritime agenda in Brussels for several years to come." INTERTANKO has been involved in a number of consultative meetings in Brussels and has made several written submissions during the construction of the Package.

The Package includes seven main headlines:

Proposal for amendments to Directive 95/21/EC on Port State Control, which will target higher risk vessels rather than having a 25% inspection target.

Proposal for new EU Directive on Member State's compliance with Flag State requirements, focusing on the "flagrant disparity" in the standards of flag state administrations.

Proposal for amendments to Directive 94/57/EC on Recognized Organizations (ROs) (i.e. classification societies), which will strengthen the control systems of ROs, improve EU recognition criteria, reform penalties.

Proposal for a new EU Regulation on Marine Accident investigation, with obligatory investigations by permanent, independent investigation bodies.

Proposal for amendments to Directive 2002/59/EC on a Vessel Traffic Monitoring and Information system including the establishment of vessel traffic monitoring and information systems (including pilot reports on deficiencies), improving authorities' response to incidents, and the obligatory designation of places of refuge.

Proposal for a new Directive on the civil liability and financial responsibilities.

Proposals concerning liability for transport of passengers (the Athens Convention).

Port state control

INTERTANKO has criticized the existing port state control rule, which requires that a purely arbitrary 25% of all ships be inspected. This rule will now be amended, so that high risk ships are inspected more frequently and quality ships less so, thus reducing the inspection burden on quality operators.

INTERTANKO applauds the proposal to redraft the Port State Control Directive so as to take into account many previous amendments, including the name of the charterer of a detained vessel being made public-- something the association has advocated for some time.

Flag state audit scheme.

INTERTANKO welcomes the decision to endorse the IMO member state audit scheme.

The Commission states that "the obligations of the flag states still constitute the missing link in the panoply of maritime safety regulations."

A focus on flag states has already been endorsed by INTERTANKO's Council with its plans to introduce a new flag requirement for membership. However the Commission also added that "stepping up responsibility in this way is the precursor to the future development of a European flag," demonstrating that it still harbors ambitions for a wider-reaching Euro flag.

Marine accident investigations.

INTERTANKO also welcomes the Commission's constructive ideas on how marine accident investigations can be improved and better coordinated. Such improvements will enhance the ability of the entire shipping industry to focus on cause and learn from accidents and near misses, rather than focusing on apportioning blame.

Places of refuge.

INTERTANKO welcomes that the Commission proposes to tighten the requirements for European States to designate places of refuge for ships in distress and to have proper emergency plans to handle ships in distress.

Pilotage.

INTERTANKO does not agree with a proposal to establish a legal obligation on deep sea pilots, including those on ships in transit, to report defects. Pilots have a specific and essential task to perform and should not be diverted from that. They are not qualified surveyors. The ideas also raise the question of liability in cases of inadequate reporting, as well as potential liability in cases where the pilot has not reported a case which he ought to have done.

Uniform implementation.

INTERTANKO supports much wider and speedier ratification of, and a uniform implementation of, IMO treaties, and therefore welcomes the Commission's proposal that the IMO code for the implementation of mandatory IMO instruments, and the related audit scheme, be mandatory for EU Member States. The Commission supports the early ratification of the Bunkers Convention and the HNS Convention, as does INTERTANKO.

Liability of ship owners.

Perhaps equally important is what is not among the proposed measures. The shipping industry was alarmed by a speech made earlier this month by the Commission's Director General responsible for Transport, which suggested that the Package would include regional measures relating to liability and financial guarantees that would go beyond the internationally agreed treaties to which most of the EU Member States are party and thus bound by. Following significant discussions involving the European Community Ship owners' Associations (ECSA) and INTERTANKO, this suggestion was not included in the final package.

Instead, the Commission emphasizes the importance of the ratification of outstanding IMO conventions, and proposes incorporating the 1996 Convention on the Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims (LLMC) into EC law. However ships flying the flag of a state that is not party to this Convention will be subject to more a more severe liability regime. Furthermore, owners will be required to produce evidence of financial security double the existing LLMC limits. The Commission will also seek to negotiate at the IMO for a revision to this Convention in order to review the level at which ship owners lose their right to limit their liability--despite the outcome of the Assembly of the International Oil Spill Compensation Fund which finally agreed last month not to revise the existing compensation regime as it provided a sound means of adequately compensating the victims of oil spills.

Conclusion

INTERTANKO stresses the need to study further the detail of the Package to ascertain the full impact of the Commission's proposals. In general terms, the Commission states its belief that the EU's influence at international level is not commensurate with its size of fleet and maritime interests, and therefore still seeks for the European Community to be a separate member of the IMO and play a central role in the international regulation of the shipping industry--a controversial issue among European Member States.

"This is on the whole a constructive package", says INTERTANKO managing director Dr. Peter Swift, "with the Commission focusing on the industry's perceived weaknesses, but at the same time believing that it should be seen as an opportunity for the best operators as much as a threat to the worst. It is most encouraging that the Commission fully recognizes the added value of international action where maritime safety is concerned, and that it believes that this is generally preferable to regional action provided sufficient protection can be achieved, and assuming rigorous implementation and enforcement of these rules and regulations. In addition, Vice-President Barrot's emphasis on a 'zero level of tolerance' is very much in tune with one of our new goals, as confirmed by INTERTANKO's Council, for INTERTANKO's members to lead the continuous improvement of the tanker industry's performance in striving to achieve the goals of zero fatalities, zero pollution and zero detentions."

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