Disaster at sea in 1999
In December 1999, the oil tanker ‘Erika’ broke in two 40 miles off the coast of Brittany (France). More than 10,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil were spilt, thereby creating an ecological disaster. Pressure of public opinion prompted the European Commission to propose action at Community level. According to the Commission, this action was "designed to bring about a change in the prevailing mentality in the seaborne oil trade. More powerful incentives were needed in order to persuade carriers, charterers, classification societies and other key bodies to give a high profile to quality considerations. At the same time, the net should be tightened on those who strive for short term personal financial gain at the expenses of safety and the marine environment." The Commission proposed a number of measures that could be taken immediately, as well as on a longer term, more complex measures which would be the subject of a second and third legislative package. The packages of these measures are known as Erika I, II and III.
The Erika I package contained measures on port state control, classification societies and double-hull oil tankers:
(1) Port State Control: Directive 2001/106/EC amending Directive 95/21, see chapter 20 ‘Port State Control’ (PSC);
(2) Classification societies: Directive 2001/105/EC amending Directive 94/57;
(3) Double-hull oil tankers: regulation 417/2002 of 18 February 2002, see chapter 24 ‘Double hull tankers’ (DHT).
The Erika II package consists of measures on monitoring, controlling and setting up an information system, a fund to compensate victims of oil pollution and the creation of a Maritime Safety Agency:
(1) Introduction of a Community monitoring, control and information system for maritime traffic: Directive 2002/59/EC of 27 June 2002, see Chapter 25 "Monitoring Directive" (MON);
(2) Setting up a Compensation Fund for Oil Pollution in European Waters: Proposal 2000/0326(COD) was approved by Parliament and Council on 5 November 2002, see ERI-002 and ERI-003;
(3) Setting up an European Maritime Safety Agency: Regulation 1406/2002 of 27 June 2002.
In January 2004, the European Commission announced a new package of legislative measures. The Commission Communication on the Erika III package was presented to Parliament and Council on 8 February 2006 (ERI-001). The third maritime safety package was adopted by the European Parliament on 11 March 2009. Most of the measures in the package took effect in late 2010.
The following themes can be found in the Erika III package:
- Port State control. See chapter 20, "Port State Control" (PSC).
- Liability. The Directive on civil liability and financial guarantees obliges Member States to require ships flying their flag to have insurance in place. Each ship has to be equal to the relevant maximum amount as laid down by the 1996 Convention on limitation of liability for maritime claims. Ships that cannot prove the existence of insurance will not have access to EU ports until the insurance issue is fixed.
- Compensation for damages of passengers. The harmonised text on compensation for passengers mentions that transport companies have to pay a maximum of 2.587 euros for the loss of luggage and a maximum of 460.000 euros in case of physical injury or loss of life caused by fault or negligence. The rules are implemented step-by-step for national as well as for transboundary traffic, and for ships of different size categories.
- Classification societies. EU rules on classification societies have to make sure that Member States fulfil their duties as flag states, in accordance with the IMO conventions on safety and prevention of pollution. Member States have to check if a ship meets the international requirements and the IMO conventions, before the ship is allowed to fly the flag of the Member State. Private organisations, which are appointed by the Member State to inspect the ships (classification societies), are also subject to strict general rules and norms. Member States will be allowed to hold the certificate in abeyance for classification societies which do not comply with the norms.
- Places of refuge for ships in need of assistance. According to the Directive on Vessel Traffic monitoring and information systems, Member States ought to designate a competent authority which can take any decision autonomously in case of emergency or danger. When deciding a place of refuge for a ship in distress, this authority should prevent loosing time. Timing is indeed very important when it comes to human life, economic damage and/or environmental catastrophe. The authority is allowed to limit the movements of the ship in distress, to indicate a designated course to it, to place experts on board to assess the nature and the size of the damage, to deploy emergency personnel and to tow the ship if necessary.
- Investigating maritime accidents. Investigating the causes of maritime accidents will be done more often in accordance with stringent Community Directives. The investigations will not remain limited to the serious sea accidents. Every potential serious accident will be subject to a preliminary inquiry. On the basis of the preliminary inquiry, it will be decided whether a thorough investigation is necessary or not.
Some relevant documents:
ERI-003: Regulation (EC) No 2099/2002 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 November 2002 establishing a Committee on Safe Seas and the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (COSS) and amending the Regulations on maritime safety and the prevention of pollution from ships (European Parliament and the Council)
ERI-002: Proposal for a European Parliament and Council regulation on the establishment of a fund for the compensation of oil pollution damage in European waters and related measures (European Parliament and the Council)
ERI-001: Communication from the Commission. Third package of legislative measures on maritime safety in the European Union (European Commission)