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Tuesday, 28 December, 1999, 14:44 GMT
Jospin pledges action on oil tankers

Lionel Jospin Mr Jospin (left) sees the extent of the environmental damage


French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has promised to work for tougher international regulations on oil tanker operations when France assumes the presidency of the European Union in the second half of next year.

Mr Jospin was speaking in Brittany during a visit to the areas worst-affected by the oil slick from the Maltese-registered tanker Erika which broke up 70km (45 miles) south of Finistere on 12 December.

"We are going to draw the lessons for international regulations," Mr Jospin said.

"The French presidency of the European Union next year will be a good opportunity to move this issue forward and take additional safety measures."

New oil slicks

The oil started coming ashore last weekend after efforts to pump it from the sea failed.

Both parts of the tanker - which had been chartered by the French oil company TotalFina - remain on the sea bed with an estimated 16.3 million litres (4.3 million gallons) of oil still in its holds.


Oil on beach New oil slicks have been coming ashore

Some 400 km (250 miles) of France's rugged Atlantic coast, which is heavily dependent on fishing and tourism, is threatened.

Storms ravaging the coast since Sunday have compunded the problem, and the submerged tanker has leaked more oil, with a new 10km (6.25 mile) slick drifting toward the coast.

It is not clear whether the fresh leak comes from the tanker's engines or the cargo itself.

Volunteers returned to beaches they had cleared on Monday only to find overnight storms had flung more thick oil ashore.

Wildlife has been badly affected by the slicks, with 12,000 birds already being treated after being covered in oil.

Some have been sent to the UK for decontamination, because local wildlife organisations have been unable to cope.

Protests

On Monday, Greenpeace activists delivered barrels of oil collected from French beaches and a few of the 6,000 sea birds killed by the slick to TotalFina's Paris headquarters in what they said was a gift to TotalFina chairman Thierry Desmarest.


Oil on beach Volunteers face a huge task

The Green Party has accused TotalFina of having chartered a tanker in poor condition and demanded the oil giant bear the cost of fixing ecological damage.

TotalFina has said it is not legally responsible for the accident but says it is prepared to help meet the costs of the clean-up.

It has brought in FFr1bn ($154 million) worth of anti-pollution equipment, but blames the break-up of the 25-year-old vessel on the Italian shipowner.

French Transport Minister Jean-Claude Gayssot has said that current practice, where safety is the responsibility of the shipowner and not the charterer, is too slack.

The norms, fixed by the International Maritime Organisation, are hard to enforce on ships using flags of convenience.

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See also:
28 Dec 99 |  UK
Anger over treatment of oil birds
26 Dec 99 |  Europe
Oil spill takes its toll
25 Dec 99 |  Europe
Oil hits French coast
17 Dec 99 |  Europe
Clean-up crews battle 'thick' oil slick
13 Dec 99 |  Europe
French struggle to contain oil spill
12 Dec 99 |  Europe
Crew saved from stricken tanker
12 Jan 99 |  Sci/Tech
Another Empress before long
12 Dec 99 |  Europe
In pictures: Atlantic rescue

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