31 Jan 6 Feb 2001
EU pressure to phase out single hull tankers
By Miriam Dunn
The European Union's wish for a swift deadline to be set for the phasing out of single hull tankers has featured prominently in the reports on the Erika disaster compiled by both the Malta Maritime Authority and the French Bureau d'enquetes accidents Mer'.
MMA executive director, Lino Vassallo, stressed that the problems relating to single hull tankers were not thought to have contributed in any way to the sinking of the Maltese-registered Erika, which broke in half off the Normandy coast in December 1999, causing untold environmental damage.
But he said that both reports had given great weight to the EU's call for the phasing out of this type of vessel to be speeded up.
"This is evidently a pressing issue that the EU has given a great priority to, and this comes out in both reports," Mr Vassallo said. "The EU would like to see single hull tankers phased as of today, if possible. But everybody accepts that this is a very complicated issue and as yet, there is no clear deadline."
Explaining that the MMA was still studying in detail the findings of the recently released report compiled by the French investigators, Mr Vassallo explained that so far, there did not appear to be any major differences between the contents and the MMA's own findings.
The BMER report cited heavy corrosion of the vessel as one of the main contributors to the disaster.
"Following the Erika casualty, the International Maritime Organisation received a number of proposals for urgent consideration and Malta, as a member state of IMO, is actively participating in the relative discussions," the MMA executive director said.
Citing another recommendation featured in the reports, Mr Vassallo highlighted the importance that is being attached to ensuring "ports of refuge" are strategically placed throughout the seas.
"The idea is that certain ports around the world would be designated and equipped to deal with a crisis," he said.
He stressed that this is just one example of the philosophy promoted by the IMO and its member states including those of the European Union and shared by Malta, that any action has to be taken on a global basis.
Mr Vassallo added that Malta supported, inter alia', the proposals for a tighter survey regime for older vessels and for certain type of ships, but stressed that the MMA had already planned certain measures before the Erika disaster.
"The MMA has already tightened its inspection system while last March, the Merchant Shipping Directorate introduced stricter requirements for trading ships of 15 years and over," he said.
He explained that the MMA shared the views of the International Maritime community, including that of the IMO, regarding the important role of the classification societies.
"This does not detract from the importance of the monitoring role of the Flag State Administration," he said. "The Merchant Shipping Directorate is not only continuing to expand its own network of independent inspectors, but is also stepping up its system of monitoring of the work of classification societies."
Asked what the MMA's next step would be on the Erika issue, Mr Vassallo said the IMO had drawn up an action list in line with the recommendations contained in both reports.
"This is being discussed at various committee levels, while other Erika investigations that are still underway, are being closely monitored," he said. "Our obligations are to ensure that any recommendations are implemented."