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EU pledges action to improve oil tanker safety

Date: 10-Jan-00
Country: EU

The European Union's executive will publish by the middle of this year a
report on potential improvements to maritime safety regulations and
force candidate countries Malta and Cyprus to cut the number of
substandard boats operating under their flags, the Commission said in a
paper published on Friday.

The Maltese-flagged tanker Erika broke in two on December 12, releasing
a slick of thick fuel oil which hit Breton beaches over Christmas,
causing huge damage to wildlife and threatening the region's tourist
industry.

Senior Commission maritime policy official Georgette Lalis earlier told
a news briefing that the Commission had already asked for information
from the Italian port authorities - the last to inspect the Erika, in
May 1999.

She said the failure to prevent the disaster might force regulations
governing oil tankers to be tightened, but said the Commission favoured
a voluntary approach by the industry.

"We'll see whether the port state authority checks were carried out
properly, and what went wrong and also whether there's a need to
strengthen existing rules," Lalis said.

She stressed that international law recognises that the owner of the
cargo has liability in such cases and that oil companies already operate
a compensation fund.

"But we'll have to discuss wehther there should be supplementary
liability for the owner of cargo under Community (EU) law," Lalis said,
adding: "We would tend to be in favour of code of conduct or some sort
of arrangement with the oil companies."

EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom is already preparing a
White Paper on extending producer liability for environmental damage,
which is due for publication shortly.

EU TALKS WITH CYPRUS, MALTA

The Commission has also been promoting a charter supported by all major
international organisations involved in the shipping of oil, committing
them to stamping out unsafe practices, Lalis said.

It is also financing a world-wide database - dubbed Equasis - to cover
safety standards of all vessels operating around the world, which should
be up and running later this year.

The Commission also pledged to use its talks with prospective members
Cyprus and Malta to win guarantees that they would tighten standards for
ships operating under their flags. Both are well-known providers of
"flags of convenience" to shippers from other countries.

"These countries have a number of substandard boats under such flags and
we are looking at measures needed for Cyprus to clean up its act. It's
already looking at specific measures on that. We do have a lever to try
and ensure their flag is a safe flag," Lalis said.

Looking further ahead, she said there may be a need for stricter
registration rules within the EU once countries such as Poland and
Estonia join the bloc later this decade.

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