The consequences of the Erika accident in December 1999 continued to dominate the agenda of the European Institutions and the industry. Six legislative initiatives relating to safety and the environment have been proposed by the Commission (widely referred to as the Erika I and Erika II packages). Progress within the EU legislative machinery has been mixed.
Accelerated Phasing out of Single Hull Tankers
IMO Shows the Way
The Commission's proposal to accelerate, in the EU only, the schedule for the phasing out of single hull tankers as agreed internationally through Marpol proved the most controversial initiative. Industry argued that as a global business, international rather than regional rules were required and that IMO (International Maritime Organisation) was the proper place to consider any amendments to Marpol.
This view was over time accepted by Member States and the EU institutions, it clearly becoming incumbent upon the IMO to prove that it was capable of seizing the political initiative by proposing and adopting credible amendments to Marpol within a short timeframe. Happily, following a common approach pursued by EU Governments and considerable input from industry, agreement on an international regime, at least equivalent to that already applicable in the US, was finally reached in IMO in October 2000.
The outcome was acceptable to both EU Member States, and indeed the Commission, and the way is now clear for the EU Regulation to mirror that of IMO. The European Parliament supported an international solution and it is anticipated that they will endorse the text in the early autumn, enabling final adoption to subsequently take place. There is now every prospect that a regional approach will be avoided.
IMO was able in this highly politicised instance to counter the criticism sometimes heard that it is inherently too slow an organisation to be effective. By demonstrating that it had the political will to take swift, practical action IMO provided a timely reminder that it is, and should be, the key standard setting body for the maritime world.
Port State Control /Classification Societies
The proposal to tighten up and strengthen Directive 95/21 on the application of Port State Control (PSC) in the Community has been welcomed by the industry. The industry regards PSC as a vital weapon against sub-standard shipping and has actively supported measures to improve its effectiveness. In December 2000 Member States reached basic agreement on the text of the directive, the contents of which should make a significant contribution in this context. The strict provisions relating to Member State obligations to refuse access to ports based on previous detention records are perhaps of particular significance. The commitment of Member States in terms of providing the necessary staffing and financial resources over the long term is, however, vital to ensure rigorous compliance.
Similarly, the Commission's proposal to amend Directive 94/57 in order to tighten up the granting, suspending and withdrawal of recognition of Classification Societies has been broadly supported. In December, Member States reached a "common position" on the directive, the contents of which in the industry's view would meet the goals of the original proposal.
On the issue of classification societies more generally, the loss of Erika and other vessels has focussed attention on their shortcomings and the need for internal reforms to be made. A greater willingness to put the concept of transparency into practice through making information on ships publicly available is one of the key areas that is being discussed between the industry and IACS (International Association of Classification Societies) in order to restore confidence in a vital component of the maritime sector.
An Institutional Impasse
While the legislative progress in relation to both port state control and classification societies appeared to be proceeding smoothly up until the end of last year, 2001 has witnessed a debate between the European Parliament and EU Governments on detailed elements that threaten to de-rail the initiatives.
On PSC, the Parliament is seeking to introduce a provision that would require the fitting of voyage data recorders to all existing ships. ECSA shares the position of Member States who state that the issue is more appropriately addressed in the Commission's Erika 2 monitoring/reporting proposal, and in IMO. ECSA has urged Members of the Parliament not to insist on their approach in the pending Conciliation Procedure so that this positive measure can be finally adopted and applied without delay.
The issue causing the dispute in relation to the Classification Societies proposal has centred on the wish of the Parliament to set financial liability limitations on the Societies while the Council prefers to leave it to Member States to decide whether to set such limits. While not primarily an issue for shipowners, ECSA has urged that a compromise be found so as to avoid delays in the adoption and introduction of the proposal as a whole.
Liability and Compensation
An international solution in prospect
As part of the package of proposals adopted in early December 2000, the Commission proposed the establishment of a European oil pollution damage compensation fund (COPE) to provide additional compensation up to a ceiling of Euro 1billion where the current ceiling under the existing rules is exceeded. It would be funded by the oil industry, no money being required until and unless a major spill threatened to break existing limits.
ECSA has recognised that there must be adequate compensation for victims of oil spills, the Erika accident showing that the level of compensation available under the existing international system should be raised further, notwithstanding the recently agreed 50% increase as from 2003. In this context ECSA has supported the creation of a third tier of compensation as proposed by the Commission, although has consistently advocated that it be established at the international level. As recognised by the Commission, the settlement of claims through the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (IOPCF) has generally worked well over the years to the satisfaction of the claimants and the parties involved. It is consequently felt that it would be preferable to build on and improve the existing international system based on the same principles and working methods so that the exceptional cases can be adequately covered.
It is encouraging that the issue of an optional third tier compensation fund funded by the oil receivers is now very much on the agenda of the IOPC working group. EU Member States have agreed on a common approach to take in relation to establishing a global regime within the framework of IMO and it is anticipated that they will be playing a leading role in its realisation. It is to be welcomed that the Commission has also indicated a willingness to pursue an international rather than a regional route on the reasonable conditions that it should be created quickly and have a sufficiently high level of coverage.
Significant progress towards the creation of a global third tier compensation fund is being made and ECSA is optimistic that it can be established within a sufficiently short timeframe so as to meet the demands of the EU institutions. The industry will be playing its full part in contributing to this goal.
Monitoring and Reporting
Provisional agreement reached
The Commission's proposed Directive establishes a Community vessel traffic monitoring and information system for maritime traffic. Its objective is to improve the existing instruments in place to try to avoid, better monitor and cope with accidents or pollution in the waters of the EU Member States. ECSA shares the goals of the proposal and endorses the role of the Community and Member States individually in ensuring that internationally agreed rules are properly enforced.
Two issues have proved controversial. Firstly, the proposal for the fitting of Voyage Data Recorders (VDR) to existing ships, a subject that is, and should be in ECSA's view, taken up in the IMO rather than in the EU context. Secondly, the concept introduced into the proposal of empowering shore authorities to prohibit ships from leaving port in bad weather raises significant questions relating to liability as well as undermining the traditional role of the Master as the person best placed to make a decision on whether or not to sail.
A particularly important and positive initiative contained in the paper where there is a clear EU dimension relates to the establishment of ports of refuge. The protracted plight of the product tanker "Castor" within the last year had demonstrated the urgency of creating a legal framework to accommodate ships in distress.
Of the Erika II proposals it is the monitoring/reporting measure that has received the most consideration and scrutiny within the Council, to the extent that there was provisional agreement (so called "common orientation") reached at the Transport Council in June. ECSA has welcomed the Council's decision to seek a solution to the fitting of VDRs to existing ships via IMO and there is every indication that a global regime will be reached within an acceptable timeframe, avoiding the prospect of a regional approach. On the issue of banning vessels from sailing in bad weather, while ECSA would have preferred the concept to be abandoned, a more flexible compromise approach has been adopted which leaves considerable discretion to Member States as to the line to follow.
Further discussions will now take place on the details within the Council and Parliament, with final adoption possible around the end of the year.
European Maritime Agency
The goals of strict and uniform enforcement of maritime safety and pollution prevention rules within the Community, aims fully shared by ECSA, have been difficult to achieve in practice due to the unprecedented amount of legislation in the last decade. The proposal to establish a maritime agency is largely aimed at addressing these shortcomings. While there have not been detailed discussions within the Council on the proposal, it is clear that there is the political will for such an Agency to be created.
Although a matter essentially for Governments, ECSA's main point is that the Agency should complement and not undermine the role of the flag state, and that there should be clear terms of reference to ensure that any potential clashes of competence between Member States and the Agency are avoided.
The proposal will feature heavily on the Belgian Presidency's agenda.
The lack of availability within some areas of the EU of marine diesel fuel with a sulphur content of less the 0.2% as required by the 1999 Directive on the sulphur content in liquid fuels, and the prohibitive price where it is available, has been a cause of concern. Uncertainty on whether ships coming from outside the EU can continue to use existing bunkers when trading within the EU where the sulphur content was above the 0.2% is another issue which has caused practical difficulties in relation to implementation of the directive. Problems in interpretation have also been experienced in relation to whether halons can continue to be used on all cargo ships under the "critical uses" criteria contained in the Regulation on Ozone Depleting substances. Representations have been made to the Commission.
Such issues should be seen in the context of an anticipated consultation paper to be produced next year by the Commission's Environment Directorate setting out some possibilities and options as to how to address maritime emissions in the EU. Following contacts with the Commission, ECSA will be making a contribution to the debate in what is likely to become an increasingly important area of its activities. It should be taken into account in this context that shipping is by far the most environment friendly transport mode.
Loading and Unloading of Bulk Carriers
In June Transport Ministers reached a common position on the directive for the loading and unloading of bulk carriers in Community ports, the basic aim being to implement the IMO BLU Code by establishing clear lines of communication and procedures between ship and shore. ECSA has welcomed the initiative.
New Ship Recycling Code
In August an industry Code of Practice on Ship Recycling was published which sets out the measures that shipowners should be prepared to take prior to disposing of redundant ships. It incorporates the Inventory of Potentially Hazardous Materials on Board agreed earlier this year and which has been approved by IMO. The Code, produced by ICS (International Chamber of Shipping) in cooperation with other industry bodies, including ECSA, is a concerted response to the concerns that have been raised about the working and environmental conditions in some of the world's ship recycling facilities, most of which are located in developing countries.
The European Quality Information System - Equasis - in operation since May last year is developing steadily, with improvements being made on an ongoing basis. It is hoped that it will become over time the prime worldwide source of ship related information. ECSA, together with other industry bodies, actively participates in the Editorial Board. Key aims must be to ensure that the system is fair and objective in its approach and that errors and inaccuracies in the database are quickly rectified.
While the past year has seen some misgivings expressed about the long term private/public funding of the Galileo satellite navigational system in particular, the Council has indicated its intention to proceed to the development phase of the project. The management structure, costs, demand for services, potential revenue flows and how they will be achieved are currently the subject of ongoing detailed consideration. ECSA is a member of the Maritime Advisory Forum that will be stressing the needs of users as the project develops in order to ensure that it offers an efficient navigational regime both in operational and cost terms.