EU tanker safety

Maureen Lorenzetti

The European Commission late last month gave its 12 member states until Apr. 5 to implement new tanker safety rules following two catastrophic oil tanker accidents off the European coast.

EC officials sent a formal notice letter to all European Union states, except Denmark, Germany, and Spain, warning that legal action might be taken through the Court of Justice if they do not comply.

The new rules call on countries to tighten safety and emergency procedures. Measures include: requiring that oil tankers and other large shipping vessels carry a voyage data recorder ("black box"), creating places of refuge for distressed ships, and establishing a better monitoring system for vessels with dangerous cargoes.

Shipper support
The EC regulation also is meant to give member states a stronger legal foundation in which to prohibit ships from leaving ports during "exceptional" weather conditions that involve serious threat to safety or the environment.

The International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (Intertanko) said it fully supports "proper plans" that ensure ships in need may immediately go to a place of refuge.

"The European Union member states have had plenty of time to make their plans, and indeed their respective ministers agreed more than a year ago that these plans should be submitted to the commission by July 1, 2003, rather than by the formal deadline given in the directive," the group said. Intertanko represents 66% of the world's independent tanker fleet.

Safety at Sea
The tanker group spoke Feb. 24 before the European Parliament's temporary committee on improving the safety at sea about a wide range of tanker safety issues. Among its recommendations to the panel, Intertanko called on the EU "to safeguard and eventually strengthen the UN Law of the Seas convention and not to undermine its main principles."

Intertanko's comments come as the US Senate debated about finally ratifying the longstanding treaty this year. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the measure last month.

Currently signed by 143 countries, the 21-year-old UN convention establishes several institutions, including the International Seabed Authority and the Continental Shelf Commission, a body of experts through which nations may establish universally binding outer limits for a continental shelf.

Treaty proponents argue active participation in the agreement will ensure that protections and restrictions are applied fairly (OGJ, Nov. 3, 2003, p. 37).

Intertanko urged the European Parliament to channel tanker safety goals and priorities through the UN-affiliated International Maritime Organization. They argued that as a global industry, shippers need international, uniform safety rules.

"National or regional regulations that differ from global rules always have the potential of being counterproductive because of the confusion and incompatibility of operational standards for tanker companies operating between various regions of the world."

Intertanko further called on EU countries to ratify international conventions on oil pollution spill compensation funds and related issues tied to oil spill liability.

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