Select Committee on European Scrutiny First Report


COM(00) 802

Commission Communication on a second set of Community measures on maritime safety following the sinking of the oil tanker Erika:

(a) Draft Directive establishing a Community monitoring, control and information system for maritime traffic;

(b) Draft Regulation on the establishment of a fund for compensation for oil pollution damage in European waters and related measures;

(c) Draft Regulation establishing a European Maritime Safety Agency.

Legal base: Articles 80(2) and 175(1 EC); co-decision; qualified majority voting
Department: Transport, Local Government and the Regions
Basis of consideration: Minister's letter of 7 June 2001
Previous Committee Report: HC 28-viii (2000-01), paragraph 8 (14 March 2001)
Discussed in Council: 27-28 June 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Not cleared; further information requested


19.1  Although the framework for international action on maritime safety is provided by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the Community has in more recent years taken action in this area where IMO standards were lacking or deemed inadequate. In particular, the Erika oil tanker disaster in December 1999 off the Brittany coast prompted the European Parliament and the Council to call on the Commission to review the maritime safety regime for oil tankers.

19.2  As a result, the Commission produced in March 2000 a Communication[35] on the safety of seaborne oil trade, which included three legislative proposals dealing with enforcement in respect of shipping using Community ports and sailing in the waters under the jurisdiction of the Member States; common rules and standards for ship inspection and survey organisations; and the accelerated phasing-in of double hull or equivalent design requirements for single hull oil tankers.

19.3  Though these were eventually cleared by our predecessors on 14 March 2001, the Commission also suggested in its Communication the need for a range of longer-term measures. Consequently, in December 2000, it set out in the present document proposals dealing with the establishment of a Community monitoring, control and information system for maritime traffic; the establishment of a compensation fund for oil pollution damage in European waters; and the setting up of a European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).

19.4  In their Report of 14 March 2001,[36] our predecessors set out the main elements of these proposals at some length, and noted that, in an Explanatory Memorandum of 14 January 2001, the then Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald) had indicated a broad measure of UK support. However, he had also identified a number of reservations, of which the most significant were:

  • that, on the proposed Community monitoring system, there were concerns that it would be overly prescriptive, and in particular impose conditions inconsistent with the rights of innocent passage allowed under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS);

  • that, on the proposed Community compensation fund, the UK was not convinced of the need to increase on a regional basis the limits already provided under the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) Fund Convention, or that the Community itself would have the necessary expertise to administer such a system;

  • that, on the European Maritime Safety Agency, the Government was concerned that this could lead to excessive centralisation, and be used by the Commission to extend its competence in areas of maritime affairs best left to the Member States.

19.5  In their conclusions, our predecessors noted the Government's reservations, particularly as regards the monitoring, control and information systems, and said that they would like further information on a number of specific points before taking a view of the proposals. First, on the potential conflict between the right of innocent passage under UNCLOS and the ability of a state to take measures to protect itself from environmental damage, they asked the Minister whether — and, if so, how — he believed these could be reconciled. Secondly, they noted that he had suggested that agreement through the International Maritime Organisation would prevent such a conflict, but, since it was not immediately clear why this should be so, they asked for clarification of this point. Thirdly, they asked the Minister to explain why the installation of voyage data recorders was thought to be inconsistent with the International Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea, what vessels are currently required by that Convention to install such equipment, and why it should be thought impracticable to install it in existing ships. Lastly, they asked why there should be concern at the proposal to use Automatic Identification Systems for fishing vessels over 45 metres in length.

Minister's letter of 7 June 2001

19.6  In his letter of 7 June 2001, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr Keith Hill) sought to answer these questions.

19.7  On the potential conflict between the proposal and the rights of innocent passage under UNCLOS, he suggested that this part of the proposal was "aspirational, rather than actual", in that, faced with the threat of pollution, coastal states may aspire to take extensive measures, but would in practice be in breach of UNCLOS if they were to introduce stronger or more extensive measures than it allowed. He added that all Member States (apart from Denmark) are parties to UNCLOS, and consequently would not deliberately seek to develop a legal instrument which contravened its provisions: rather, the need was to guard against the risk that the proposed Directive might inadvertently be developed in such a way as to breach the terms of UNCLOS. The Minister also addressed the suggestion that agreement through the International Maritime Organisation would preclude such a conflict. He makes the point that a coastal state might inadvertently incorporate requirements which breached UNCLOS, and that the best way of avoiding this is for all mandatory reporting regimes to be considered by the IMO, which he considers has the locus and expertise to assess them.

19.8  On the consistency between the installation of voyage data recorders and the International Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea, the Minister points out that the latter currently requires passenger ships and new cargo ships over 3000 gross tonnage to fit such recorders in a phased programme from 2002 to 2004, whereas the Commission's proposal as drafted would extend such requirements to existing cargo ships. He says that, since a recorder needs to be connected to a ship's rudder, engine controls and radar, the degree of interfacing needed for existing vessels would be impractical, but that the International Maritime Organisation is commencing a study to see if a simpler form of recorder might be possible. He suggests that it would be reasonable for the Commission to look again at this in 2004, when that study is due to report.

19.9  On the point about the use of automatic identification systems for fishing vessels over 45 metres in length, the Minister says that the requirements for the carriage of equipment by fishing vessels have been agreed internationally through IMO under the Torremolinos Convention, but that this does not currently extend to such systems. He suggests that, until such time as it does, a Directive requiring the carriage of additional equipment would place Community fishermen at an international disadvantage.


19.10  Whilst we are grateful for this explanation, we note from a written answer given by the Minister for Transport at the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr Jim Spellar) that the Transport Council on 27-28 June reached a common orientation on aspects of the first of the measures in this document,[37] and, in order to discharge our scrutiny responsibilities to the House, we would like the Minister to set out in a Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum the ways in which the text agreed differs from the Commission's original proposal. We would also find it helpful to be kept in touch with developments on those parts of the document dealing with the establishment of a compensation fund and of a European Maritime Safety Agency, on which we understand there has so far been less progress. In the meantime, we are not clearing the document.

35  (21146) 7245/00; see HC 23-xviii (1999-2000), paragraph 5 (17 May 2000), HC 23-xxiii (1999-2000), paragraph 5 (28 June 2000), HC 23-xxix (1999-2000), paragraph 6 (15 November 2000), and HC 28-viii (2000-01), paragraph 12 (14 March 2001). Back

36  Paragraphs 8.4 - 8.14. Back

37  Official Report, 9 July 2001, c. 322-4 W. Back

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