WANT THE TRUTH? Read on……
Today is the 11th Anniversary of the Prestige Disaster. Three men are being tried in the Higher Courts in Spain, yet the real criminals remain unpunished and cloaked in Government protection so Justice….can not be done.
On November 13 2002, a tanker registered to the Bahamas in the name of ‘Prestige’ broke in two off the Spanish Galician coast spilling a substantial quantity of its 77,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil.
The European Parliamentary investigation into the disaster in 2004 concluded that ‘Europe’s capacity for cleaning up oil at sea has proved inadequate in certain areas and that no improvement measures have been taken since the sinking of the prestige while a continuing proliferation of counterfeit and fraudulent certificates have been issued to cover ship safety.’
The certificates in discussion relate to inspections of ships. Environmental commentator Malgorzata Anna Nesterovicz, assistant professor at Nicolaus Copernicus University suggests that
‘as far back as the 1980’s EU member states have expressed their discontent with the level of control exercised by flag states over their ships.’
An area of particular concern relates to those states such as the Bahamas and Panama who operate what is known within the maritime industry as ‘flags of convenience.’ Such a term has evolved to signal within the industry that the registration of a vessel within a country like the Bahamas is primarily for economic reasons and ease. Furthermore the term is used pejoratively indicating that a vessel owner for what ever reason does not want to create obligations with a country with stricter registration standards.
International shipping is governed by the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention and is more affectionately referred to as ‘Marpol’. In its original simplicity Marpol is the most important international agreement that guarantees a vessels uninterrupted enjoyment of the high seas. The convention also grants ships the freedom to navigate through a country’s immediate coastal water, although there are some limitations contained under Article 211. Limitations are primarily restricted to nations that act through the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) with the aim of limiting maritime pollution.
What has previously been recognised as trans-boundary and better devised as an international and universally co-operative strategy has now surfaced with substantial criticism in light of the 2004 parliamentary investigation. Indeed the EU investigation has even gone as far to state that action on maritime safety under the auspices of the International Maritime Organisation have fallen short of what is needed to tackle the causes of such disaster effectively.’
The EU has blamed such absence of control on the IMO’s existing regulatory powers not being universally applied and that inadequate levels of control exist especially in relation to ships flying ‘flags of convenience’. Surprisingly this statement is not a direct response to the Prestige disaster but to an inadequate compensation regime that has been left to deal with the aftermath of the 2002 disaster.
A previous EU attempt at a unilateral response to disaster was made after 1999 when the Maltese vessel ‘Erika’ broke in two off the French coast spilling approximately 30,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil. Comprehensive measures commonly known as the Erika I package were introduced with the aim of strengthening port inspections whereby 25% of ships would require inspection by Member States while simultaneously operating a ‘blacklist‘ of ships banned from EU waters. Additional measures included an accelerated time table for the withdrawal of single hull tankers.
The Erika I package brought forward the originally agreed timetable contained in Marpol that aimed to phase out such vessels by 2026. Also from 1996 a requirement existed that all newly built tankers must be a double hull design or equivalent.
EU continued criticism of the IMO suggests that this timetabling was not sufficient and further measures were outlined and implemented via the ‘Erika II’ package.
This led to the birth of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), an increased surveillance of traffic in EU waters together with the requirement that ships use ‘black boxes’ similar to those used in aviation.
A proposed complementary disaster oil fund was recommended, with a 10% increase to one billion euros for any damage that occurred within EU waters. This increase was intended to be met by oil companies, but after much resistance within the oil and shipping industry this proposal was watered down and an amended measure adopted in 2003 at an international diplomatic conference; some three years after the Prestige disaster.
It was also agreed that payments for damage were to be speedier after immense hardship was discovered by claimants who claimed payments took years to reach them.
The Erika I and II packages appeared to take a relatively small amount of time to prepare but a longer time to implement. The EU did reference the fact that the 26 year old Prestige tanker would have been de-commissioned in September 2002 if the Erika I package had been adopted sooner.
The continued phasing out of single hull tankers have been driven forward via an accelerated timetable by both the IMO and EMSA although
Spain and France have controversially banned ‘dangerous tankers’ from within a 200 mile limit to their shores. Such a ban flies in the face of Marpol that guarantees vessels unimpeded transit and freedom to navigate the globes seas unless, via Article 211 a country acts via the IMO. Ironically both France and Spain were threatened with legal action by the EU for delayed Implementation of the Erika I package and the European Court successfully prosecuted France for failing to inspect the requisite 25% of ships in port.
Concerns have been raised by Environmental commentators such as Nesterovicz, who suggests that in order to avoid another ‘Prestige’ type incident the accelerated phasing out of single hull tankers is not the answer. This action will only force sub-standard ships to other parts of the world that are not as equipped to deal with a disaster and will not prevent them from carrying or indeed spilling oil in the future. Indeed, she states further that such tankers will continue to transport oil to nations where such a ban is in place but the tankers will merely be restricted from entering the EU ports and immediate waters. This in essence will be a simple act of circumvention as a tanker will anchor just outside territorial waters awaiting double hulled tankers to offload the oil.
Nesterovicz is adamant ‘One must ask the question, is the shipping industry ready to comply with an earlier phase out date? I suspect not as there have not been enough double hulled tankers built to cope with such a deadline’
It is suggested that such a problem can be attributed directly to the shipping industry for failing to make haste and build the required vessels. It appears to have instead adopted a wait and see approach while the oil companies continue to lobby against the IMO and attempt to tie them up in lengthy bureaucratic challenges in the International Maritime Court and World Trade Organisation.
The outcome of such challenges are not yet known and are continuing. However, while uncertainty, confusion and procrastination continues European coastal waters are susceptible to further tragedy.