This Issues special focus: Port and Maritime Security:
Maritime terrorism has emerged as a formidable threat in the world, targeting both naval and civilian vessels. In Europe the threat is compounded by the use of maritime vessels and shipping lanes by criminals, who are often in league with terrorists. With the possibility that weapons of mass destruction could be used as a terrorist weapon, efforts to pre-empt such attacks which could causer mass civilian casualties has become a top European Priority, making it necessary for the alliance to expand its maritime frontier. As the stakes are raised Europe must innovate in order to counter the new maritime threats. Also with arrest of several Moroccan’s suspected of involvement with the Madrid blasts, people are asking how safe Europe’s frontiers are.
• Initially they must identify and evaluate important assets and infrastructures
• They must identify the actual threats
• The vulnerability of the port facility must be assessed by identifying its weaknesses in physical security, structural integrity, protection systems, procedural policies, communications systems, transportation infrastructure, utilities and other areas within a port facility that may be a likely target
• 25% of the world fleet flies under EU Member States’ flags and 40% is controlled by EU-owned companies;
• Almost 90% of EU external trade in goods and more than 40% of its internal trade is transported by sea;
• Some 1 billion tonnes of oil enter European Union ports or cross the waters surrounding its territory each year;
• Over 45% of the European fleet is more than 20 years old.
• 350 million passengers are transported on European ship journeys each year.
• Globally over 100 ships are lost each year accounting for over 3 000 lives.
Despite the existence of a well developed framework of international standards for safety at sea and for the protection of the marine environment – most of them laid down in Conventions developed within the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) – many flag States and shipowners continue to break the rules, thereby putting crews and the environment at risk and benefiting from unfair competition.
The Commission adopted its first common policy on maritime safety in 1993, with the aim to ensure that all ships flying under the flag of an EU Member State or entering a European port comply with international safety standards.
The Erika and Prestige accidents were real eye-openers on the risks related to maritime shipping and pushed the Commission to adopt a series of preventive measures, known as the Erika I and II packages , to reduce the risks of accidental pollution by ships. It also set up a European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA ) responsible for improving drafting and enforcement of EU rules on maritime safety.
Despite the reduction in the number of maritime accidents, certain safety threats remain and the Commission adopted a third package of 7 legislative proposals on 23 November 2005 to supplement and improve existing rules.
In addition to these preventive measures, the EU also adopted, in December 2006, legislation granting €154 million, between 2007-2013, to EMSA to help it to improve the Union’s response to sea-polluting incidents. The aim is to enable the Agency to provide anti-pollution vessels to states affected by pollution from oil or other hazardous and noxious substances and to develop a centralised satellite imagery service which will facilitate the early detection of polluting incidents and the identification of the ships responsible.
Catching substandard ships:
Countries are required to verify whether ships flying under their flag comply with international safety standards (Flag State Control). However, existing conventions leave an important degree of discretion to flag States, and ships in international voyages can easily deviate from the rules.
The Commission, with its 3rd maritime safety package, is proposing to make IMO rules on responsibilities of flag states mandatory for all member states, with regular audits and assessments. Parliament backed this proposal but, member states say it would generate too many additional costs for their administrations (EurActiv 27/03/07). Furthermore, the Commission is looking to strengten surveillance of "classification societies", the private bodies which can be authorised by member states to carry out inspection and certification tasks on ships flying their flag.
The Commission also wants to strengthen its system of port state controls. Indeed, flag state controls may only be applied to ships flying under an EU member state flag but accidents in EU waters are often caused by substandard ships from third countries. The EU had already introduced, in 1995 , a system of Port State controls to monitor foreign ships entering EU ports which allows substandard ships to be added to a Community blacklist and refused access to EU ports.
Following the Erika accident, the EU decided to up the number of controls, demanding that member states inspect 25% of all foreign ships. However, this purely quantitative control system generated considerable costs and inconvenience for ships that were safe because they nevertheless had to undergo repeated checks. Furthermore, despite achieving a five-fold increase in the number of inspections, unsafe ships continued to slip through the system.
The Commission is thus proposing a new regime where 100% of individual ships are inspected. The new system would take into account ships’ risk profiles, subjecting higher-risk vessels, including all passenger ships and oil and chemical tankers of more than 12 years in age, to more frequent checks. Member states say that this will be expensive and too hard to police and have asked to be allowed to miss up to 10% of inspections (EurActiv 12/12/06), but the Parliament rejected this idea in a first reading vote in April 2007 (EurActiv 26/04/07).
• Reducing the risk of oil spills:
Fires, explosions, collisions and hull failures are among the main types of shipping accidents which give rise to oil pollution. For low energy collisions and minor groundings, double-hulled tankers are much less likely to spill oil than single-hulled tankers. The Erika and Prestige ships were both single-hull carriers and, following the two accidents, the EU decided, in 2002, to prohibit single-hull oil tankers from carrying heavy fuel oil in the European Union as of 2003 and to gradually eliminate all EU single-hull tankers by 2010. The phase-out has been integrated into the IMO Convention for the Prevention of Pollution by Ships (MARPOL ) and adopted by 130 countries.
Nevertheless, a high level panel of experts established by the EMSA has published a report saying that, while the use of double hulled tankers will undoubtedly lead to a reduction in pollution, it will not be a panacea. Improvements can still be achieved on hull maintenance, coatings and gas detection systems.
• Responding to accidents at sea:
When a ship has suffered an incident, the best way to prevent damage or pollution from its deterioration is to transfer its cargo and make repairs. This is best done in a place of refuge. However, by accepting a ship in distress, countries expose themselves to financial and environmental risks. Indeed, costs related to salvage operations, clearing up pollution, property damage or disruption of economic operations can be huge.
The proposed Directive on vessel traffic monitoring seeks to take into account both the rights and interests of coastal states and the need to render assistance to vessels that are damaged. It makes it mandatory for member states to designate independent authorities which will take the decision to accept or refuse vessels based on a full risk assessment. At the same time, it allows member states to request that a vessel be covered by insurance that would permit appropriate compensation for costs and damage associated with its accommodation in the place of refuge.
However the proposal is proving to be one of the real sticking points between member states and Parliament. Indeed, while MEPs say member states should have "no margin of discretion" in the decision, arguing that this would result in loss of precious time before rescue operations take place, countries are reluctant to submit themselves to an independent decision-making body that would have the authority to expose their coastlines and ports to such serious risks.
• Making shipowners behave responsibly:
In September 2005, the EU adopted dissuasive measures on ship-source pollution, making shipowners fully liable for any polluting discharges committed with intent, recklessly or by serious negligence, and introducing penalties against offenders. A coalition of shipping industry organisations led by Intertanko says the directive is unlawful and has initiated legal proceedings. The European Court of Justice is expected to take a decision in 2007.
The Commission now intends to complement this legislation by making shipowners liable in the event of damage to a third party. International conventions in this area have little dissuasive effect as they allow shipowners to limit their liability in almost all cases. The Commission wants to establish unlimited liability in the event of grave negligence and set levels of compensation sufficiently high to cover most scenarios. In addition, the Commission is suggesting that shipowners be obliged to take out an insurance policy to guarantee they can cover their liability vis-à-vis third parties.
At the same time, the Commission is proposing to enhance the safety of passengers by adopting a Regulation on the civil liability of passenger carrier s which would ensure compensation to all passengers having suffered an accident so long as they purchased their tickets in Europe, even if they travel outside Community waters or onboard a foreign vessel.
• Protecting ships and ports against terrorism:
Vessels, people, infrastructure, the environment, as well as trade can be seriously threatened by acts of terrorism or piracy. The EU therefore established, in 2004, certain obligatory standards to increase ship and port security. Each ship intending to enter the port of a member state must provide 24-hour advance information concerning ship and cargo safety. Furthermore, the EU adopted in October 2005 a directive telling EU members to draw up port security plans, and the Commission is entitled to conduct inspections to verify their effectiveness.
The EU also co-operates with the USA to eliminate potential terrorist threats from maritime container transport in the framework of the Container Security Initiative (CSI) launched in September 2004
Developing Maritime Safety for a better protection of the maritime environment
Whilst many flag States and owners are meeting their international obligations, their efforts are constantly undermined by those who do not play the game according to the rules. When operators break the rules on safety and environmental protection, they put crews and the environment at risk and in addition they benefit from unfair competition.
This is a sad reality, despite the existence of a well developed framework of international rules for safety at sea and for the protection of the marine environment, most of them laid down in Conventions developed within the International Maritime Organization and the International Labour Organization.
Considering the existing loopholes in Conventions, the important degree of discretion left to flag States and the existing possibilities to derogate from safety rules for ships in international voyages, the European Community became involved in maritime safety.
With the strategic importance of shipping to the EU economy – 2 billions tonnes of fret are loaded and unloaded in EU ports every year – and the increase of the maritime traffic going through EU waters – every year 1 billion tonnes of oil are transiting through EU ports and EU waters – the EU is constantly developing and intensifying its maritime safety policy which the aim to eradicate substandard shipping essentially through a convergent application of internationally agreed rules.
Although at Community level a few legislative decisions were taken in the period 1978-1992, maritime safety policy actually started in 1993 with the adoption of the Commission’s first communication on maritime safety: "A Common Policy on Safe Seas".
This breakthrough was a reaction to accidents at sea which occurred in 1992 and 1993 with the oil tankers "Aegean Sea" which ran aground outside La Coruña harbour (Spain) on 3 December 1992 and "Brear" which grounded off the Shetland Island on 5 January 1993. In addition, the change from the unanimity to the qualified majority rule for maritime decision making on 1 November 1993 also provided an appropriate incentive to develop a comprehensive action on maritime safety.
In the framework of the first communication and the implementation of the detailed action programme attached to it, several important legislative acts were proposed and adopted within 5 years. They are still the core of EU’s maritime safety policy.
However, as new disasters occurred in European waters, additional actions focussing on specific shortcomings had to be initiated.
After the "Estonia" tragedy, a Ro-Ro passenger ferry which sunk on 28 September 1994, the Community adopted a comprehensive set of rules for the protection of passengers and crew sailing on ferries operating to an from European ports, as well safety standards for passenger ships operating on domestic voyages within the Community.
In the meantime, EU’s new maritime strategy gave particular attention to « Quality Shipping ». A Charter on « Quality shipping » signed by key players of the maritime sector and the « EQUASIS » system are concrete results of the efforts to promote quality.
The “Erika” and the “Prestige” accidents encouraged the EU to drastically reform its existing regime and to adopt new rules and standards for prevention of accidents at sea, in particular involving oil tankers. The EU considerably reinforced its legislative arsenal to combat flags of convenience and give Europe better protection against the risks of accidental oil spills.