EU plan to prevent another Prestige disaster

24th November 2005, Comments 0 comments

24 November 2005, BRUSSELS — Three years after the sinking of a fuel tanker off Spain caused the country's worst environmental accident, the European Commission unveiled reforms designed to prevent such disasters.

24 November 2005

BRUSSELS — Three years after the sinking of a fuel tanker off Spain caused the country's worst environmental accident, the European Commission unveiled reforms designed to prevent such disasters.

The EU's judicial cooperation body recommended a single trial be carried out in Spain to assign blame in the 2002 "Prestige" debacle.

In Brussels, the European transport commissioner, Jacques Barrot, announced the implementation of a "zero tolerance" policy for vessels that do not strictly adhere to all necessary safety and inspection standards.

Ships that do not comply with the proposed measures would be banned from operating in European waters.

The new package of regulations is aimed at exposing unscrupulous ship owners, revamping the maritime administration of Europe's seas - across which are transported 75 percent of the EU's trade by volume and 45 percent by value - and harmonizing liability and compensation laws across the EU's 25 member states.

Meanwhile, in The Hague, the European judicial cooperation entity Eurojust recommended a single trial for those charged in the case be conducted in Spain.

Although the recommendation is not binding, everything indicates that it will be respected by Spain and France, the two countries most affected by the thousands of tons of oil spilled from the Prestige.

The Spanish delegate to Eurojust, Ruben Antonio Jimenez, told a press conference the "decision (is) very important ... (since it) opens doors to resolving problems at the international level".

He said that the judges in charge of the investigation into the case in France and Spain have participated in the Eurojust cooperation meetings and "are in agreement," although an official resolution by French has not yet been rendered.

The Bahamas-flagged Prestige - a 23-year-old, single-hulled vessel - sank on 19 November 2002, after splitting in two about 100 kilometres (62 miles) off the north-western Spanish coast.

The tanker was carrying 70,000 tons of crude, most of which leaked into the ocean, forming a huge black slick that stretched all the way to France.

If the Eurojust recommendation is followed, it could delay the Spanish judicial investigation, where seven charges have been filed and authorities have announced that pre-trial proceedings will be completed before the end of this year.

The Spanish delegate said that the hard thing about this case has been to determine the criminal and civil responsibilities of the parties involved.

Furthermore, it has been very tough to find entities in the maritime transport sector who are solvent enough to be able to indemnify the victims of oil spills because there is currently no obligation for a ship or shipping firm to carry liability insurance that would cover the damages.

With that in mind, the European Commission is proposing the idea of making damage insurance obligatory for ship owners.

Currently only just over half of maritime transport vessels carry such policies.

The Prestige accident, and the environmental disaster caused by the 1999 sinking of the oil tanker Erika off the coast France, led the EC to approve two previous packages of measures to improve shipping security.

That move was augmented with the approval of a third package - known as Erika III - which Barrot said he wants to see implemented in 2007.

The regulations that entered into force in November 2003 could have prevented a ship as dangerous as the Prestige from entering European waters.

But with the new set of proposals, authorities are seeking to raise the quality standards for all vessels that sail in EU territorial waters.

The new rules aim to ensure that all vessels follow the strictest safety criteria, carry appropriate liability insurance and are inspected more regularly and rigorously.

Also proposed is the designation of an independent authority to monitor safe refuge ports where ships with problems could go or be taken, ports that would have to be clearly identified by the 25 EU member states.

The Prestige had developed a leak a week before it sank and tried to make for the Spanish coast, but, after the crew was rescued, tugboats were dispatched to tow the crippled tanker back out to sea where it finally broke apart, spreading its cargo along a huge section of multinational coastline.

The EU also proposes placing automatic identification and location equipment on all fishing vessels, a move that would reduce the risk of maritime collisions and allow the development of a common methodology to investigate accidents.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news

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