EC considering tougher tanker safety regulations

The European Commission Thursday began considering a second package of measures aimed at beefing up safety practices in the wake of the sinking of the Erika tanker off the coast of France last December. Adoption of the so-called 'Erika II' package by the EC would lead to the setting up of a maritime traffic control and information system, an oil pollution compensation fund, and a new European Maritime Safety Agency.


Darius Snieckus
OGJ Online

LONDON�The European Commission (EC) Thursday began considering a second package of measures aimed at improving tanker safety practices in the wake of the sinking of the Erika off the coast of France last December.

Adoption of the so-called "Erika II" package by the EC would lead to the creation of a maritime traffic control and information system, an oil pollution compensation fund, and a new European Maritime Safety Agency.

Topping the list of proposals was one aimed at tightening "monitoring and control arrangements" for vessels travelling off the coasts of EC members, and would result in a directive that forces all ships�even those not calling at European ports�to carry automatic identification systems and aircraft-style "black boxes" to facilitate accident investigations.

Under the directive, vessels would not be permitted to leave harbor in "extreme weather conditions," and EC member states would have to provide "ports of refuge for vessels in distress."

The Erika II package also covers the creation of a European pollution damage fund called COPE which would provide compensation to victims of oil pollution of up to 1 billion euros on top of the current 200 million euro fund operated by International Maritime Organization.

The new fund, which would be financed by European companies which import oil, is designed to "speed up" compensation claims in the EC.

A plan to institute a European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) rounds out the package of EC proposals. EMSA would support the EC and member states in applying and monitoring compliance and assessing the effectiveness of the maritime safety measures introduced, according to an EC statement.

The new agency's tasks would include "collection of information, operation of data bases on maritime safety, evaluation and audit of maritime classification societies, and the organization of inspection visits in the member states to check the condition under which Port State control is carried out."

EMSA would also work with national inspectors to pinpoint vessels that posed a potential risk to maritime safety.

EC Transport and Energy Vice-Pres. Loyola de Palacio said, "Adoption of these measures by the community will make it possible to build a genuine European maritime safety area and ensure an optimum level of protection for the marine environment and European coastline."

The new proposals build on an earlier package designed to step up vessel inspection in post, supervise classification societies, and phase out single-hull oil tankers "more quickly."

TotalFinaElf's contribution
French megamajor TotalFinaElf, which had chartered the ill-fated Erika tanker, expects to contribute up to 100 million euros toward the proposed oil pollution compensation fund, in line with its current contribution to the existing International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (IOPCF). A TotalFinaElf spokesman said this figure, equal to roughly 10% of the IOPCF, was in keeping with the fact that the company currently accounts for some 10% of total oil imports into Europe.

"It would be reasonable to think that we would contribute around 10% of the new fund," he said.

He stated that the company was "very much in favor" of the proposals addressing issues of compensation for coastal pollution damage, and the setting up of a new maritime safety agency, but would not comment on plans for stricter control of seagoing traffic due to it being a "technical question for operators, not users of vessels."

He said, "We have always said we are very much in favor of such measures both to enhance the sum allocated to compensate for any pollution damage, as well as the creation of an European agency charged with controlling (policy covering) vessels and those private agencies, such as classification bodies, charged with inspecting vessels."

"These are measures which are in line with what (TotalFinaElf Chairman) Thierry Desmarest has suggested since the sinking of the Erika," he added.

The government enquiry in January by the Sea Accidents Investigation Office�a division of France's Ministry of Construction, Transportation, and Housing�concluded the Erika "broke apart most likely because of structural weakness."

TotalFinaElf has spent some 850 million francs on clean-up operations linked to the accident, including 500 million francs on "neutralization" of the wreck, 200 million francs on disposing of the heavy fuel and waste materials onboard, and 220 million francs to cover coastal cleanup operations.

The budget set out by the French oil giant to cover environmental remediation of Brittany's coastline, the spokesman noted, has tripled since June, when it first announced funding had been set aside for this purpose.

TotalFinaElf is also budgeting a further 50 million francs for a "long term project to restore the ecological balance" in the coastal region affected. The project is scheduled to begin with the final stage of the clean-up operations is completed next spring, and last 5 years.

Meanwhile, a year after the Erika sank, only 34 million francs of a promised 1.2 billion francs has been paid out to the various victims. The French government's advisory body, the Social and Economic Council, after investigating the causes and consequences of the tanker's foundering, has worked out the damage at 3 billion francs.

"It is clear, notes the council, "that the financial impact of the catastrophe already largely exceeds the compensation ceiling of the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund."

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