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Tuesday, 19 November, 2002, 12:40 GMT
Analysis: Tightening rules on tankers
Spanish sailors help clean up a beach near Malpica in north-west Spain
Claims for compensation are expected in due course

The sinking of the tanker Prestige off Spain is likely to speed up moves by the European Union to set up a European Maritime Safety Agency which would have much greater powers to control oil tankers in European waters.

The European Commission says that "substandard ships and floating rustbuckets should disappear from Europe's waters within two years".

The French maritime affairs minister Gilles de Robien has already said that the process is not going fast enough. He told Radio France Inter: "There must be a European will."

He said that measures should include a maritime police force to board ships which presented a danger.


Substandard ships and floating rustbuckets should disappear from Europe's waters within two years

European Commission
European Commissioner Loyala de Palacio said the measures must be put into place "with the utmost resolution".

There are currently two aspects of international law which govern oil tankers and spillage of oil from them.

The first regulates the tankers themselves and the second allows compensation for those affected.

Flagstate responsiblity

Oil tankers are the responsibility of the state in which they are registered - the flag state. The Prestige, owned by Greek company Mare Shipping and operated by Swiss-based Crown Resources, is registered in the Bahamas.


Many countries are not satisfied that the regulations are being enforced and have formed themselves into regional groupings to carry out checks

The flag state itself comes under the 162-member International Maritime Organisation based in London which agrees on the standards.

The sinking of the Erika off the coast of Brittany in North West France in December 1999 prompted the IMO to agree an accelerated schedule to phase out single hulled tankers. This is now supposed to happen by 2015.

The United States brought in even tighter laws after the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Other rules cover the construction, maintenance and operation of the tankers.

"Once the standards are agreed, it is up to the flag state to implement them," said Lee Adamson, spokesman for the IMO.

However, many countries are not satisfied that the regulations are being enforced and have formed themselves into regional groupings to carry out checks themselves. In Europe, for example, 18 countries are in the Paris Memorandum which initiates about 18,000 checks each year.

Compensation funds

If a tanker causes pollution, then compensation is available from the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds. (IOPC Funds). These are paid for by oil companies.

The United States has gone further and has allowed for more punitive payments by tanker owners.

Under conventions governing the funds, a tanker owner has to insure against pollution up to a certain amount, depending on the size of the ship.

In the case of the Prestige it would be about $25m. Unless there has been recklessness in the maintenance of the ship, that is the maximum liability for the owner. Above that, claims go to the international funds to an overall limit of $170m.

Individuals as well as organisations and governments can and do claim.

Earlier incident

An earlier oil disaster occurred off north-west Spain in 1992 when the Greek tanker Aegean Sea, carrying 80,000 tonnes of crude oil, ran aground in bad weather while approaching La Coruna harbour.

Claims from that amounted to $250m but were only paid at 40% as the incident came under a previous, less generous, process.

Claims for the Erika sinking are still being assessed.

A spokeswoman for the IOPC Funds said she expected claims to come in from people affected by the Prestige in due course.

Under new European Union proposals, there would be compensation available up to one billion euro.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Roy
"From next year single-hulled tankers are barred from carrying certain fuels into EU waters"
Spain's coast and maritime fauna are threatened by the oil spill from the break-up of the Prestige

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See also:

11 Nov 01 | Science/Nature
08 Nov 01 | Americas
23 Mar 99 | Americas
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