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Brussels, 23 November 2005

Third Maritime Safety Package

Over the last ten years the EU, in particular since the Erika accident in December 1999 and the Prestige accident in November 2002 has introduced legislation aimed at improving the level of maritime safety and the prevention of accidental pollution by ships.

The positive results obtained so far are due to a large extent to the establishment in the EU of a line of defence against substandard ships, and in particular through controls of ships in European ports. These defensive arrangements represent a considerable cost for the port and coastal state administrations, even though the main responsibility for applying the security rules rests with the shipowners and flag states. Similarly, the shipowners who practice a high-quality policy suffer the consequences of the persistence of substandard shipping, which confronts them with unfair competition, repeated port controls and an overall undermining of the image of the maritime transport sector.

Moreover, despite the reduction in the number of maritime accidents, the threats relating to failure to comply with safety standards remain. The pressure on flags of convenience and more generally any defect in the maritime transport chain must therefore be maintained and even accentuated.

The seven proposals contained in the package are therefore intended to supplement the European rules concerning maritime safety and improve the efficiency of the existing measures. They take account of the experience acquired in implementing the Community legislation on maritime safety (the Erika-I and II packages and the measures adopted following the Prestige accident), and the concerns expressed on several occasions by the European Parliament, the European Council and the ministers of transport.

1. A proposal for a Directive on the conformity requirements of flag states

Greater responsibility for flag states is the main “missing link” in the existing Community legislation. The objective of this new proposal is to ensure that Member States effectively monitor compliance with international standards by ships flying their flags and having for this purpose a maritime administration operating in accordance with high-quality criteria, i.e. the ISO 9001/2000 standard. The standards are, for example, provided for in the SOLAS Convention (safety of life at sea) and the MARPOL Convention (prevention of pollution of marine environment).

It will be proposed to incorporate in Community law, by making it mandatory, the IMO (International Maritime Organisation) code on the conformity of flag states in the international conventions which have already entered into force for the majority of Member States. The performances of the flag states will be audited and assessed in the light of the provisions of the IMO flag states audit procedure.

Accompanying measures are provided for, including the development of a database which will help Community Member States in the exercise of their responsibilities for managing and controlling a high-quality fleet. The proposal also provides for encouraging the conclusion of agreements between EU Member States and third countries which would use the same quality standards for their flags. Such agreements should make it possible to reward quality by fewer controls.

Lastly, demonstration, through audits, of the quality of a flag should give rise to fewer controls in the context of the future port state inspection regime (cf. point 3).

2. Amendment of the Directive on classification societies

The proposal intends to improve the quality of the work of these classification societies, bodies authorised by the Member States to carry out on their account inspection, checking and certification tasks relating to ships flying their flag. This approach is in line with logic of independence, competence and responsibility his bodies.

The proposal will thus relate to the strengthening of the process of inspection and certification of the safety of ships approved by the Community. This will entail the approved bodies introducing a common quality control structure with a high degree of independence. At the same time, the obligations for transparency and cooperation incumbent on the approved bodies will be reinforced, while the criteria to be met to obtain Community approval will be rationalised.

Also, the proposal provides for the reform of the system of sanctions against societies which fail to meet the requirements, including the introduction of financial sanctions. Under the present system only the suspension or withdrawal of approval is possible. More gradual sanctions will be more effective. Lastly, the Commission’s inspection powers (access on board ships and to files, including in the case of ships flying non-Community flags) will be increased...

3.  Amendment of the Port State Control Directive

Controls in ports were stepped up following the Erika accident: the number of ships covered by the mandatory detailed inspections rose from 700 to nearly 4000. It is now a question of taking a further step towards improving the effectiveness and quality of checks on ships in European ports. The regime in force will thus be supplemented by new types of controls, e.g. onboard insurance certificates and safety questions. The role of pilots in the early detection of possible defects on board will be stepped up. The national administrations will need to establish the organisation and resources needed to meet their obligations, with special effort focusing on the competence and continuous training of inspectors.

In addition, the sanctions imposed on substandard ships will be stepped up. Banning for repeated detentions will be extended to all categories of ships and sanctions will be even more severe in the event of repeated offences, including, where appropriate, an outright ban. At present, barely ten ships are banned from European ports: this number could rise in future to as many as 200. In addition, the Commission will publish a list of operators of substandard ships.

Lastly, with this proposal the Commission is initiating a thorough reform of the Port State Control regime. The existing directive is based on a target figure of 25% ships inspected by Member State, which allows a number of substandard ships to slip through the safety net and has the inconvenience that safer ships are inspected too frequently. The aim of the new inspection regime, the principles of which are laid down in the proposal, is to ensure the inspection of 100% of ships in the EU, the frequency being directly linked to the risk profile of the ships in question (for example, high-risk ships will be inspected every six months). Until the new regime is finalised, the current rules, including the national target of 25%, will remain in force.

4. An amendment of the Traffic Monitoring Directive

Establishing a clear and precise legal framework for places of refuge is the main objective of the proposal to amend the Directive on the Community maritime traffic information and monitoring system. This legal framework provides that the Member States designate independent authorities responsible for designating the most appropriate place of refuge. These authorities will have the information they need to take their decisions, including a precise inventory of potential places of refuge along the coasts.

The proposal also provides for the widespread use of the SafeSeaNet data exchange network. This system, developed by the Commission and operated by the European Maritime Safety Agency will enable the maritime authorities to have precise information about movements or ships and their cargos.

Fishing continues to be one of the most dangerous sectors of activity. In order to prevent accident risks, and in particular collisions involving fishing vessels, it is proposed that automatic identification systems onboard fishing vessels over 15 metres should be made compulsory.

Lastly, the proposal contains specific provisions enabling coastal states to take appropriate measures to limit possible dangers to shipping of ice formation in certain maritime areas in the North of the EU. This is a particularly important issue given the increased risks arising from the greater volumes of oil carried in the Baltic Sea area.

5. A proposal for a Directive on accident investigations

Along the lines of the rules governing the conduct of civil aviation investigations, the aim of this proposal is to improve maritime safety by providing for clear Community guidelines concerning technical investigations following occurrences at sea.

As in the aviation sector, the aim of technical investigations in the maritime sector is not to determine or attribute any civil or criminal liability, but to establish the circumstances and investigate the causes of occurrences at sea in order to draw all possible lessons with the view to issuing safety recommendations for prevention purposes. However, the absence of rules governing the conduct of appropriate technical investigations and feedback in terms of experience following accidents at European level is at present a significant gap in EU maritime safety policy.

The proposal seeks to confer European legal status to technical investigations following maritime accidents. Accordingly, the Member States should maintain or, where appropriate, establish specialist independent bodies and give technical investigators investigation powers in respect of third parties.

In addition, the proposal strives to encourage cooperation between Member States and between Member States and third countries.

6. A Regulation on liability and compensation for damage of passengers in the event of maritime accidents

The purpose of the proposal is to incorporate into Community law the provisions of the 2002 Athens Convention which are applicable only to international journeys and to extend them to cover domestic maritime traffic and inland waterways. Accordingly, at EU level all ship passengers will be able to benefit from the same protection regime in the event of an accident: modernised carrier liability rules, a mandatory insurance system and a satisfactory compensation ceiling. These protection rules also apply to all passengers who have purchased their tickets in Europe, even if they travel outside Community waters and even onboard a ship flying a third-country flag.

It should be noted that the Commission has proposed that the Community and its Member States should become contracting party to the Convention.

7. A Directive on the extra-contractual liability of shipowners

The Commission intends to work to ensure that shipper behave more responsible:

  1. Firstly, it will continue to militate for the modernisation of the applicable international conventions such as the 1992 Convention on civil liability for oil pollution damage (CLC-IOPCF).
  2. Secondly, it will propose to the Member States that they pursue a uniform approach for all other types of damage. Initially, the Member States would be invited to implement an international convention which embodies the traditional principle of limitation of liability in maritime law but sets levels of compensation by shipowners that are sufficiently high to cover most scenarios. Secondly, the Commission intends to obtain a mandate to negotiate the review of the Convention to remove the civil liability ceiling at international level (IMO). The objective is to ensure that ship owners lose their traditional right to limit their liability in the event of grave negligence.

In addition, with this proposal, the Commission is suggesting that shipowners should be obliged to take out an insurance policy or another financial security or a guarantee from a bank or similar financial institution in order to cover their liability in the event of damage to third parties pursuant to the applicable rules. The financial guarantee should cover a sufficiently high amount to guarantee satisfactory compensation for victims in all possible cases. The compulsory financial guarantee will also cover the costs of repatriation of seafarers in the event of abandonment.

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