European Commissioner sets out passenger ship safety priorities

"Tragic accidents, from the Titanic, to the Estonia or the Costa Concordia, put ship safety in the spotlight," said EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas, setting out the European Commission's priorities for passenger ship safety at a meeting of stakeholders convened by the Commissionn in Brussels.

"There are always lessons to learn from such disasters," he said. "But we are not just waiting for the next accident to happen. It would be foolhardy merely to respond after the event. The EU has the toughest ship safety rules in the world and this is the result of a process of continuous improvements, proactive and preventative measures to raise maritime safety standards.

Mr. Kallas set a three-pronged approach to enhancing passenger ship safety, based on:

  1. promoting industry voluntary measures,
  2. intensifying enforcement and implementation; as well as
  3. regulatory measures.

The Commission's work to revise the current EU passenger ship safety legislation has been ongoing since 2010 which should result in a number of proposals at the end of this year. Additionally, in the light of the Costa Concordia tragedy, the Commission considered it appropriate to review as an element of continuous safety improvement issues such as damage stability, orderly evacuation, communication and training. These issues are therefore included in the stakeholder conference.

The public consultation1 will end on July 5, 2012, following which a workshop is planned to summarize the input received.

The Commission's priorities are:

  • updating and/or amending existing EU legislation and (co)-sponsoring submissions for international standards setting at the IMO;
  • continuing to ensure the enforcement and implementation of existing rules and drawing any lessons from best practices; and
  • promoting voluntary commitments by industry.

Actions on the setting of rules and standards should take into account relevant results from research and technological developments. The Commission's priorities support a policy that is safety conscious, immediate in terms of voluntary commitments and enforcement measures but also measured in terms of legislative action, and will take into consideration the circumstances and the results of the accident investigation following the Costa Concordia casualty.

Legislative proposals

The Commission will follow a staged approach: it is working on the proposals planned for 2012, with the intention that these are to be followed by other specific legislative measures towards the end of 2013.

Shipping is by its nature global, so for some of the proposals a twin track could be followed: proposed EU legislation can be fed into IMO in parallel. The Commission wants to see a fully coordinated European response with regard to passenger safety related submissions to IMO and in particular to IMO's Maritime Safety Committee (MSC).

The Commission intends presenting by the end of 2012 new rules and safety standards for passenger ships. The Commission plans a revision of Directive 2009/45/EC on domestic passenger ships – the new measures will provide a simplification, and adapt the scope and coverage for smaller passenger ships and ships built in materials other than steel as well as sailing and historic ships.

In addition, the Commission envisages making a proposal to update EU passenger ship stability rules for roll-on roll-off ferries (Directive 2003/25/EC) with a view particularly to improving stability after damage. At the same time the Commission will provide its research on ro-ro passenger ship stability in a damaged condition to the IMO, with a view to enhancing the IMO international rules.

Future considerations

There are other measures, including legislative, which merit being looked at but which require further impact assessment taking into account, where appropriate, the results of the Costa Concordia accident investigation. Hence, the following initiatives could follow at a later stage:

For passenger ships, including cruise ships, IMO rules on safe return to port as well as orderly evacuation and abandonment of the ship, could be enacted in EU law. It may also be appropriate to look at how the IMO guidance for water tight doors on passenger ships is applied in practice and consider enactment at EU level.

Examine further the SOLAS 2009 stability rules for other types of passenger ships, including cruise vessels.

Finally, cruise ships and passenger ships on non-regular services could be included in the current mandatory survey regime for ro-pax vessels (Directive 1999/35).

Enforcement and implementation

Some aspects and issues arising from the Costa Concordia accident should be looked at from the point of view of enforcement and implementation of current EU legislation in and with the Member States. Member States as flag States and port States have a responsibility to enforce the robust regime already in place and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), as part of its ongoing tasks, is carrying out inspection visits to monitor the implementation of a number of EU maritime safety instruments. This includes in 2012 the EU regime for the registration of persons on board (Council Directive 98/41/EC). The evaluation of such inspection visits may add elements for further legislative or other response measures.

Voluntary Industry Commitments

The measures announced by the cruise industry following the Costa Concordia accident should be noted as effective and immediate voluntary improvements. Considering the Commission's Maritime Transport Policy until 2018, which refers to a relaunching of the Quality Shipping Campaign, the Commission is encouraging industry to continue its own review leading to Voluntary Industry Commitments for Passenger Ship Safety. This could result in quick application and implementation, committing the industry but also balancing and maintaining a growth sector. However, for such commitments to work, it is necessary to ensure they are honored in practice and the Commission would therefore not exclude the possibility of legislative measures should they become necessary.

April 24, 2012