15 December 2004

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Shipping register ‘intact’ as Malta fights hard in Brussels

The Maltese government managed to safeguard its maritime interests by successfully opposing new EU maritime pollution rules, through a combined effort alongside Greece and Cyprus, altogether holding the largest shipping fleets in the entire union.
All three countries strongly argued against the new rules, saying the Commission’s plans would penalise their merchant fleets by going further than international agreements applicable to competitors outside the EU. The new regulations laid down that EU ships would adhere to stricter pollution conditions than non-EU vessels. Malta argued that half of its register could be endangered as a result.
The three states claimed the new rules would only end up favouring non-EU shipping registers, considered as flags of convenience. Much disagreement followed at the EU Justice and Home Affairs Ministers’ Council meetings which for the past three months attempted to find a compromise on the impasse.
The main issues dealt with the relation between the framework decision and the Marpol (convention for the prevention of pollution from ships) and Unclos (the UN convention of the law of the sea), the possibility of introducing a ceiling for the maximum fines to be imposed on legal persons and the question of jurisdiction for offences committed outside the territory of a member state.
Malta also resisted offers of a transitional period in order to give up its opposition, especially with pressure from countries that have experienced major pollution incidents, such as the Erika and Prestige disasters.
Dutch Justice Minister Piet-Hein Donner, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said it had been past time to act on sanctions, noting that in the aftermath of the Prestige sinking the EU executive commission had asked that the matter be settled by the end of 2003.
The Dutch Presidency however moved to present a compromise proposal which was agreed upon in principle by the EU's Permanent Representatives agreed on a compromise proposal put forward by the Dutch presidency solving the issue raised by Malta, Greece and Cyprus over new maritime pollution rules.
The new agreement effectively removes the objectionable part to Malta, Greece and Cyprus from the regulations, as well as including a provision for the European Commission to look at the issue again in five years' time in order to see whether the rules approved would need revision. It was also agreed that the EU will now attempt to negotiate with the International Maritime Organisation new rules to ensure that the same rules apply to all shipping registers and not only to those of the EU.
But whilst the Maltese government expressed satisfaction at the solution, organisations like Greenpeace expressed great criticism at the blocking of what could have been a hard line on criminalising ship source pollution if discharges are "commited with intent, recklessly or through serious negligence." The Council had adopted a common position on a draft directive on ship source pollution and the introduction of sanctions for infringements.
Greenpeace said the stance taken by the three EU Member States "opens the door to further destruction of the maritime environment. In Athens, the organisations called on Greek Prime Minister Costas Caramanlis to stop defending "a few polluting ship owners, and to end its alliance with Cyprus and Malta, which are major providers of flags of convenience to shipping companies around the world”.
The fight against intentional or negligent ship-source pollution is among the European Union's priorities. The Council adopted a Common Position on a draft Directive on ship-source pollution and the introduction of sanctions for infringements. The main principle of the draft Directive is that all discharges of polluting substances are considered infringements if they are committed with intent, recklessly or through serious negligence. It allows Member States to take the necessary measures to ensure that these violations are subject to effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions which may include criminal or administrative sanctions.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Malta Financial & Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann
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