Erika spill prompts EU transportation safety measures

Even as efforts continue to pump out the 12,000-15,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil left in the TotalFinaElf SA-chartered Erika tanker�which sank off the Atlantic coast of France Dec. 12, 1999, contaminating French beaches�France has begun its 6-month presidency of the European Union determined to push through measures to prevent similar accidents. Among other things, the country wants to tighten tanker requirements and raise compensation fund ceilings.


PARIS�Even as efforts continue to pump out the 12,000-15,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil left in the TotalFinaElf SA-chartered Erika tanker�which sank off the Atlantic coast of France Dec. 12, 1999, contaminating French beaches�France has begun its 6-month presidency of the European Union determined to push through measures to prevent similar accidents. Among other things, the country wants to tighten tanker requirements and raise compensation fund ceilings.

The pumping vessel Crystal Ocean began operations July 3 with great care, starting at a rate of 10 cu m/hr. That rate should gradually increase to 50 cu m/hr. The watchword is safety rather than speed to avoid any spillage, says TotalFinaElf.

From the Crystal Ocean's tanks, the fuel, mixed with rapeseed methyl ester to aid fluidity, will be transferred to the shuttle tanker M�de, which will carry it to a TotalFinaElf refinery to be reprocessed.

Pumping of the fuel contained in the forward part of the wreck should be completed by the end of July. Pumping of the fuel in the aft wreckage, 10 km away (the vessel broke in two upon sinking), should be completed by the end of August�before the great September tides.

Some 240 people and seven vessels will be needed for the 4-month operation, at a cost to TotalFinaElf of some 77 million euros.

French maritime safety efforts
France intends to take advantage of its 6-month EU presidency position to push through an agreement by all member states to improve maritime security. The purpose, as outlined by Transport Minister Jean-Claude Gayssot, is to tighten controls on oil tankers in the waters and ports of the EU, as well as on the classification companies that are responsible for certifying oil tankers. The plan includes outlawing single-hulled tankers in the EU as soon as possible.

France also intends to push through proposals, announced by the European Commission, to improve maritime navigation surveillance and heighten the accountability of operators. France has asked the International Maritime Organization to set up mechanisms for improving safety standards, particularly for ships transporting hazardous or polluting materials; to control access by such vessels to coastal areas; and to see that international standards are respected by convenience-flag states.

France will also seek to force the Oil Pollution Compensation Fund to increase its compensation ceiling to provide better assistance in the event of environmental damage. It also will seek greater accountability from oil companies.

Finally, France will put forward a set of proposals to improve the working conditions and qualifications of seamen at the European level.

Civilian navigation
French officials noted that the so-called Galileo project is scheduled for launch during France's EU presidency.

Galileo will be the first satellite guidance system catering to civilian needs in radio navigation, positioning, and synchronization. The 3 billion euro cost will be contributed by the private sector as well as through cooperative arrangements with third-party countries.

The Galileo project is Europe's answer to the growing need for reliability and safety in transport systems. It will be compatible with the two existing satellite guidance systems�the US military Global Positioning System and its Russian counterpart, the Glonass system, which also has civilian applications.

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