Select Committee on European Scrutiny Ninth Report


SAFETY OF SEABORNE OIL TRADE


(a)
(21943)
14595/00
COM(00) 802

Commission Communication on a second set of Community measures on maritime safety following the sinking of the oil tanker Erika.

(i) Draft Directive establishing a Community monitoring, control and information system for maritime traffic;

(ii) Draft Regulation on the establishment of a fund for compensation for oil pollution damage in European waters and related measures;

(iii) Draft Regulation establishing a European Maritime Safety Agency.



(b)
(22834)
12965/01
COM(01) 592


Amended proposal for a draft Directive establishing a Community monitoring, control and information system for maritime traffic.
Legal base: Articles 80(2) and 175(1) EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting
Document originated: (b) 12 October 2001
Forwarded to the Council: (b) 15 October 2001
Deposited in Parliament: (b) 7 November 2001
Department: Transport, Local Government and the Regions
Basis of consideration: (a)(i) and (b) EM of 19 November 2001

(a)(ii) and (iii) Minister's letter of 16 November 2001

Previous Committee Report: (a) HC 28-viii (2000-01), paragraph 8 (14 March 2001) and HC 152-i (2001-02), paragraph 19 (18 July 2001)
Discussed in Council: (a)(i) 27-28 June 2001

(a)(iii) 7 December 2001

Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: (a)(i), (a)(iii) and (b) Cleared

(a)(ii) Not cleared

Background

  5.1  Although the framework for international action on maritime safety is provided by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the Community has in more recent years taken action in this area where IMO standards were lacking or deemed inadequate. In particular, the Erika oil tanker disaster in December 1999 off the Brittany coast prompted the European Parliament and the Council to call on the Commission to review the maritime safety regime for oil tankers.

  5.2  As a result, the Commission produced in March 2000 a Communication[18] on the safety of seaborne oil trade, which included three legislative proposals dealing with enforcement in respect of shipping using Community ports and sailing in the waters under the jurisdiction of the Member States; common rules and standards for ship inspection and survey organisations; and the accelerated phasing-in of double hull or equivalent design requirements for single hull oil tankers.

  5.3  Though these were eventually cleared by our predecessors on 14 March 2001, the Commission also suggested in its Communication the need for a range of longer-term measures. Consequently, in December 2000, it set out proposals (document (a)) dealing with the establishment of a Community monitoring, control and information system for maritime traffic; the establishment of a compensation fund for oil pollution damage in European waters; and the setting up of a European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).

  5.4  In their Report of 14 March 2001,[19] our predecessors set out the main elements of these proposals at some length, and noted that, in an Explanatory Memorandum of 14 January 2001, the then Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald) had indicated a broad measure of UK support. However, he had also identified a number of reservations, of which the most significant were:

  • that, on the proposed Community monitoring system, there were concerns that it would be overly prescriptive, and in particular impose conditions inconsistent with the rights of innocent passage allowed under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS);

  • that, on the proposed Community compensation fund, the UK was not convinced of the need to increase on a regional basis the limits already provided under the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) Fund Convention, or that the Community itself would have the necessary expertise to administer such a system; and

  • that, on the European Maritime Safety Agency, the Government was concerned that this could lead to excessive centralisation, and be used by the Commission to extend its competence in areas of maritime affairs best left to the Member States.

  5.5  In their conclusions, our predecessors noted the Government's reservations, and said that, before taking a view of the proposals, they would like further information on how the potential conflict between the right of innocent passage under UNCLOS and the ability of a state to take measures to protect itself from environmental damage could be reconciled; the basis for the Minister's suggestion that agreement through the International Maritime Organisation would prevent such a conflict; and why the installation of voyage data recorders was thought to be inconsistent with the International Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea. They also asked why there should be concern at the proposal to use Automatic Identification Systems for fishing vessels over 45 metres in length.

  5.6  In his letter of 7 June 2001, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr Keith Hill) provided answers to these questions, which we noted in paragraphs 19.7-19.9 of our Report of 18 July 2001. However, we also noted that a written answer by the Minister for Transport at the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr Jim Spellar) had said that the Transport Council on 27-28 June had reached a common orientation on aspects of the first of the measures in document (a), and we said that, in order to discharge our scrutiny responsibilities, we would like a Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum setting out the ways in which the text agreed differed from the Commission's original proposal. We said we would also find it helpful to be kept in touch with developments on the other parts of the document, dealing with the establishment of a compensation fund and of a European Maritime Safety Agency, on which we understand there has so far been less progress. In the meantime, we decided not to clear the document.

Minister's letter of 16 November 2001

  5.7  In his letter of 16 November 2001, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr David Jamieson) explains the latest position on the establishment of a compensation fund and of a European Maritime Safety Agency. On the first point, he says that progress within the Community has been limited, with the emphasis being on action in the international arena under the auspices of the IOPC Fund. This has led to agreement on a draft Protocol to the existing IOPC Fund Convention, which would introduce the option of an international third tier of compensation open to any contracting state to the existing compensation regime. The Minister says that the draft is now being referred to the Legal Committee of the International Maritime Organisation for consideration at its next session in April 2002, and, assuming the Legal Committee endorses the text, a diplomatic conference would be convened in early/mid 2003 to adopt the Protocol. He adds that the existing oil pollution compensation regime will be improved in all contracting states as a result of a UK-led initiative to increase compensation limits from November 2003, with the current overall limit of £117.6 million being raised to £177 million. In addition, the Supplementary Fund would complement the improved compensation coverage for any states prepared to incur additional levies to ensure yet higher compensation coverage, though the limit and entry in force requirements would not be settled until the diplomatic conference.

  5.8  As regards the European Maritime Safety Agency, the Minister says that there have been significant developments, and that agreement to a Common Position is expected to be sought at the next meeting of the Transport Council on 7 December. He recalls that, whilst the UK has always supported the stated aims of the Agency, it was concerned that it could lead to excessive centralisation, and be used by the Commission to extend its competence in areas of maritime affairs best left to the Member States. He says that the UK's aim of limiting the remit of the Agency to meet these concerns has largely been achieved in negotiation, with the Commission's original proposal for an Administrative Board comprising four representatives each from the Council, European Parliament, Commission and industry likely to be replaced by one where each Member State would have one representative, and the Commission and industry four each. The Minister says that the UK could support this, since it would mean that Member States would retain control of the Agency, rather than it being a creature of the Commission.

Explanatory Memorandum of 19 November 2001

  5.9  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 19 November 2001, the Minister sets out in some detail the changes made by the Council to the Commission's original proposal, the main effects being to re-define the respective responsibilities of Member States and the Master of the vessel; to reduce the risk of conflict with the provisions of wider international law, and in particular to ensure that any requirements placed upon the Master, including the extent to which a vessel may be prevented from leaving port in the event of bad weather, do not prejudice his professional judgement. As a result, he says that the Council text meets the UK's earlier concerns, except for one point relating to the timetable within which Voyage Data Recorders should be fitted to existing vessels if no agreement on this is reached in the IMO.

  5.10  The Minister also refers in his Explanatory Memorandum to the amended text (document (b)) which the Commission has produced to take on board those of the amendments proposed by the European Parliament which it is prepared to accept. He points out that this text incorporates as well many of the amendments agreed by the Council, but that, in any case, the way forward will now be on the basis of the Council's Common Position, which he expects to be taken, without further debate, at the meeting of the Transport Council on 7 December.

Conclusion

  5.11  We are grateful to the Minister for his very full and detailed response to our request for an explanation of the differences between the Commission's proposal and the Council's Common Position on a Community monitoring, control and information system. In the light of this, we are now clearing both the original proposal (document (a)(i)) and the amended Commission proposal (document (b)). Likewise, we are content, on the basis of the information in the Minister's letter of 16 November 2001, to clear the proposal establishing a European Maritime Safety Agency (document (a)(iii)).

  5.12  Consequently, our only outstanding concern relates to the proposal for a European compensation fund for pollution damage (document (a)(ii)), where we have noted from the Minister's letter of 16 November that action recently has proceeded under the auspices of the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund. However, whilst we understand that this accords with the UK's own preference, we are not clear whether this means that action on the Commission's proposal has now been suspended, or indeed whether the Commission now intends to withdraw that proposal. We would be glad if the Minister could clarify this before we consider what further action, if any, is needed on that document.


18  (21146) 7245/00; see HC 23-xviii (1999-2000), paragraph 5 (17 May 2000), HC 23-xxiii (1999-2000), paragraph 5 (28 June 2000), HC 23-xxix (1999-2000), paragraph 6 (15 November 2000), and HC 28-viii (2000-01), paragraph 12 (14 March 2001). Back

19  Paragraphs 8.4 - 8.14. Back


 
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