Select Committee on European Scrutiny Sixth Report


The European Scrutiny Committee has agreed to the following Report:—





Commission Communication on improving safety at sea in response to the Prestige accident.

Legal base:
Document originated:5 December 2002
Deposited in Parliament:10 December 2002
Basis of consideration:EM of 19 December 2002
Previous Committee Report:None
Discussed in Council:6 December 2002 — see below
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:For debate in European Standing Committee A


  1.1  On 19 November 2002 the oil tanker "Prestige" sank off the coast of Spain. In correspondence in December 2002 the Minister for Transport, Department of Transport (Mr John Spellar), told us the Commission had proposed at short notice draft Conclusions for adoption by the Transport Council relating to the "Prestige" incident. Many of the ideas in these Conclusions were contained in the document which the Council had before it and which we now report on.

The document

  1.2  The Commission's Communication informs the European Parliament and the Council of its view on a number of safety and environmental issues consequent on the loss of the "Prestige". The Commission recalls action taken after the loss of the tanker "Erika" in December 1999 and regrets what it regards as the slow pace in implementing the improvements agreed. It notes that the measures adopted after that incident will not start to come into effect until 1 January 2003 (phasing out of single hull tankers), 22 July 2003 (Directives[1] on enforcement of international standards for ship safety, pollution prevention and shipboard living and working conditions, port State control, and classification societies, responsible for ship structural safety inspections) and 5 February 2004 (Directive[2] on vessel traffic monitoring). The Commission calls for implementation earlier than the dates scheduled. It also proposes additional measures on carriage by sea of highly polluting products and urges the Member States to take action within the International Maritime Organization (IMO) so as to reinforce maritime safety and prevent pollution from ships. The Commission suggests a tightening up of certain points in existing legislation by:

  • making the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) operational six months ahead of the currently scheduled date of July 2003;

  • making assessment of the work of classification societies more rigorous;

  • producing an indicative list of ships which would be banned from EU ports if the criteria in the latest amendments to the port State control Directive had already been in place;

  • setting up a trans-European data exchange network for vessel traffic monitoring;

  • speedier preparation of plans to accommodate vessels in places of refuge; and

  • Member States acting in advance of the implementation dates of post-"Erica"measures by:

          —  recruiting sufficient numbers of port State control inspectors to meet the inspection targets;

          —  sufficient inspection rates at all ports and anchorage areas to ensure a consistent level of inspection across the EU and to inspect vessels which may be calling only to refuel; and

          —  early ratification of the Protocol establishing a Supplementary Fund for compensation, promoted by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), and ensuring the Fund covers damage up to _1 billion and is operational before the end of 2003.

  1.3  Whilst noting that the causes of the loss of the "Prestige" are not yet known, the Commission also proposes measures additional to those taken following the "Erika" incident:

  • administrative agreement between the maritime administrations of Member States, candidate countries and neighbouring states on a ban on the use of single-hull oil tankers for carrying heavy fuel oil;

  • amendments to international provisions on liability and compensation for oil pollution damage;

  • legislation on penal sanctions for maritime pollution caused by grossly negligent behaviour;

  • legislation on the recognition of seafarers' certificates of competency issued by third countries;

  • review of provisions relating to the obligation on pilots to report ships in doubtful condition; and
  • review of measures to improve the protection of EU coastal waters from ships that pose an environmental threat.

  1.4  The Commission refers to its wish that the Community accede to the IMO[3] and says it will support efforts of Member States in the IMO to establish:

  • compulsory shipping routes and restricted zones to keep hazardous cargoes away from sensitive EU coastlines; and

  • a compulsory audit procedure for flag States.

  1.5  Finally the Commission hopes to agree a code of conduct on the carriage of oil with the oil companies under which they would:

  • not charter single hull oil tankers over 23 years old;

  • not carry heavy fuel in single hull tankers;

  • exchange information on sub-standard vessels; and

  • examine with the Commission a more balanced approach between transporting oil within the EU in tankers or in a trans-European pipeline.

The Government's view

  1.6  The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Mr David Jamieson) tells us:

"We can agree with many of the policy aims set out in the Communication, and we were generally supportive of the Conclusions of the Transport Council on 6 December, in which some, but not all, of the recommendations in the Communication appeared. The Commission's approach was welcomed by most member states at that Transport Council, some such as Spain and France wanting stronger action than proposed, others expressing minor reservations on particular points but welcoming the overall approach. Only the Netherlands and the UK sought changes to make the proposed Council Conclusions more cautious, at least until likely consequences could be more thoroughly assessed.

"We should approve the Commission's attempts to accelerate the application of the ERIKA measures, where practicable, especially the earlier establishment of the EMSA, closer monitoring of classification societies, exchanging vessel traffic monitoring data and preparing plans for accommodating ships in places of refuge. We also approve efforts to accelerate improvements in port State control, particularly in those Member States which fail to reach the target of inspecting 25% of foreign flagged vessels calling at their ports. However such proposals do have resource implications in terms of extra burdens on maritime administrations to provide inspectors to carry out more inspections and mandatory inspections required under the new arrangements. The targeting and mandatory inspection of certain types of vessel may also mean that shipowners who run vessels of the types likely to be targeted may find their vessels being inspected more frequently, however well-maintained they are.

"We approve the encouragement being given to Member States to support the supplementary oil compensation fund being devised in IMO and likely to be finalised at a Diplomatic Conference in May 2003. However, at the Transport Council we felt that it was unhelpful of the Commission to make constant reference to the creation of a separate EU fund of _1 billion, if efforts in IMO did not bear fruit. Such tactics could make it more difficult to win support in IMO for a valuable and truly international measure. Our interventions secured a moderation of the language in the Council Conclusions, toning down a categorical statement of separate EU action in the event of failure to reach agreement in the IMO and substituting an intention to 'examine immediately' a regulation.

      "We could also support many of the 'additional measures'. We support the concept of securing a better balance between the responsibilities of all those involved in the transport of oil by sea and introducing the deterrent of a penal sanction against those who pollute the sea, either deliberately or through gross negligence. For some time we have been pressing for more member States to ratify the Conventions on liability and compensation for marine pollution from sources other than oil and would see benefits in a Community-wide assessment of the qualifications of seafarers to ensure they meet international standards. Pilots are a valuable source of information about the vessels they guide and gathering information from them is a suitable task for the EMSA.

"However we feel that the measure to restrict the transport of heavy oil in single hull tankers has been proposed without detailed evidence being produced of its impact on oil supplies. At the Transport Council we made this point forcefully. The Commissioner consequently agreed an amendment to the draft Council Conclusions, limiting the action proposed here to heavy grades of oil which, she said, amounted to only some 7% of the oil carried at sea. She also agreed to publish urgently her evidence for saying that there is sufficient double hull capacity to replace single hull tankers. We shall also be vigilant to ensure that steps to protect the coastal waters of the EU comply with the international law of the sea, as the Council Conclusions require.

      "In the 'actions at international level' the question of accession by the European Community to the IMO has already been the subject of Explanatory Memorandum 7826/02[4] submitted last July. We should, however, have no difficulty with working inside the IMO to secure protection for environmentally sensitive areas. While we support proposals for an audit of the performance of flag States, we feel that advocating such a scheme on a compulsory basis could at this stage be counter-productive in IMO negotiations, though it may be a long-term aspiration.

      "We support the proposals to work with the industry.

      "In summary, the Communication represents an ambitious commitment to making significant changes in a very short time. It will be important for the EU to work sensitively within the IMO if we are to succeed in negotiations on the global stage and not raise opposition there. Moreover some of the measures could be interpreted by others as an attempt to dump the problem of oil pollution from European waters to the rest of the world. For this reason we should emphasise the importance of acting in IMO to secure truly international solutions. We must also press for industry to be consulted and for the draft measures to be supported by the proper regulatory impact assessment to ensure their practicability and proportionality. Both these points are in accordance with new procedures on consultation and regulatory impact assessment recently adopted by the Commission."


  1.7  Loss of the "Prestige" has highlighted again the maritime safety and environmental concerns last addressed by the EU following the "Erika" incident. We welcome the prompt consideration of issues arising by the Commission and the Council. These issues, and possible measures to address them, are important, but we note the Government's reservations in relation to some of the Commission's suggestions. We believe Members would welcome the opportunity to explore these matters further, and recommend the document for debate in European Standing Committee A.

1  Council Directive 94/57/EC (OJ No L 319, 12.12.1994, p.20) as last amended by Directive 2001/105/EC (OJ No L 19, 22.1.2002, p.9) and Council Directive 95/21/EC (OJ No L 157, 7.7.1995, p.1) as last amended by Directive 2001/106/EC (OJ No L 19, 22.1.2002, p.17). Back

2   Directive 2002/59/EC (OJ No L 208, 5.8.2002, p.10). Back

3   See (23591) 7826/02; HC 152-xxxviii (2001-02), paragraph 7 (16 October 2002). Back

4   See (23591) 7826/02; HC 152-xxxviii (2001-02), paragraph 7 (16 October 2002). Back

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