Official Journal of the European Union

C 318/229

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 417/2002 on the accelerated phasing-in of double-hull or equivalent design requirements for single-hull oil tankers and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 2978/94

COM(2006) 111 final — 2006/0046 (COD)

(2006/C 318/37)

On 25 April 2006, the Council of the European Union decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 80.2 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the abovementioned proposal.

The Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 4 September 2006. The rapporteur was Mr Simons.

At its 429th plenary session, held on 13 and 14 September 2006 (meeting of 13 September), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 187 votes to four with eight abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations


The EESC agrees that EU Member States must adhere to their political agreements. Providing support, by means of the present proposal for a Regulation, to those EU Member States which fulfil this requirement and demonstrating to a world-wide audience that the EU is serious about also complying in practice with the commitments entered into in connection with the IMO are measures which are very much more important than any — purely speculative and very limited — negative consequences, which may or may not arise.

2.   Introduction


Regulation (EC) No 417/2002, as amended by Regulation (EC) No 1726/2003, introduced measures prohibiting the carriage of heavy grade oil in single-hull oil tankers leaving or bound for ports in the European Union in order to reduce the risk of accidental oil pollution in European waters.


A similar ban, based on the measures adopted by the EU, has been imposed on a worldwide basis by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) through the new regulation 13G and 13H of Annex I to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution by Ships 73/78 (MARPOL). However, under paragraphs 7 of 13G and 5, 6 and 7 of 13H of the said MARPOL regulation administrations may under certain conditions exempt tankers from the ban. This was the compromise which had to be accepted as the price for the adoption of a worldwide provision. Directly afterwards, the Italian presidency of the EU, speaking on behalf of all EU Member States and the European Commission, declared, following the elaboration of the then customary and mutually binding prior coordination agreement, that they would all not invoke the exemption provisions. Following the entry into force of the IMO regulation on 5 April 2005, one Member State notified the IMO, as early as 18 April 2005, of its intention to invoke the exemption provision which is the subject of the Commission proposal under review. In the following months, many Member States notified the IMO, in accordance with the coordination agreement, that they would not invoke the exemption provisions. Four Member States have yet to make an official announcement to this effect but they have announced in COREPER, and therefore to the European Commission and the other Member States, that they will shortly be following the example of the other 19 Member States.


The European Commission recalls political agreements prior and soon after the adoption of the IMO ban and the statement in IMO in December 2003 by the Italian Presidency of the EU expressing a commitment of the then 15, now 25, Member States to refrain from making use of the MARPOL Convention exemptions.


The European Commission proposes an amendment to Regulation (EC) No 417/2002 to translate the political commitment into law that would extend the scope of the Regulation by prohibiting the carriage of heavy grades of oil in all single-hull tankers flying the flag of a Member State irrespective of the jurisdiction governing the ports, offshore terminals or the maritime area in which they operate.

3.   General comments


The EESC recalls that with its opinion on Erika II (1) it supported the banning of single-hull tankers for the carriage of the most polluting heavy grades of oil.


It is a matter of principle, that the Member States should adhere to their political commitments made at international level and should ensure the coherence of the Community policy. However, the proposal is preceded by a short explanatory memorandum focusing only on the political commitments and in particular on the EU statement at the time of adoption of the new regulation 13H of MARPOL.


With its opinion on Erika II the EESC recommended that the EU should propose to the IMO the designation under the MARPOL Convention of highly sensitive environmental areas as ‘areas to be avoided’ by tankers carrying heavy fuel oil and the establishment of mandatory routing systems under the SOLAS (2) Convention. Subsequently, IMO responded to proposals by interested states and established a number of Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (Western European Waters, Baltic Sea, Canary Islands, Galapagos Archipelago) and extended the Great Barrier Reef Area to include the Torres Strait (Australia-Papua New Guinea). These areas, as well as the areas of the Sabana-Camagüey Archipelago (Cuba), the Malpelo Island (Colombia), the sea around the Florida Keys (USA) and the Paracas National Reserve (Peru) established between 1997 and 2003 are protected by associated measures such as areas to be avoided by tankers and other ships, routing measures, reporting systems and pilotage. The establishment of these or such areas should be seen as a reflection of policies of coastal states to minimize the risk of pollution from single hull oil tankers.


According to the statistics, presented in April 2003 (3) to IMO by the Member States and the European Commission, in November 2002 there were in operation approximately 660 single hull oil tankers of category 2 (20.000dwt and over) out of which 160 super tankers (VLCC and ULCC, tankers of 200.000dwt and over) mostly engaged in the transport of crude oil from the Persian Gulf area to USA and Japan. Oil tankers may be taken out of service for many different reasons or may be laid up at any specific time. By the end of 2006 the maximum number of these super tankers in operation will be less than 50, decreasing every year according to the phasing-out schedule ending in 2010. These figures reveal nothing about any economic and social concerns which may play a role in the case of the one Member State which opted to invoke the exemption. It is still not possible to obtain precise data in respect of the ships which may be involved by consulting the register of shipping of the state concerned, with the result that any such information continues to be nothing more than speculation, which is unworthy of the EESC. Even if, as an overall figure, 23 ships and between 300 and 400 national seamen may be involved, the danger of ‘flagging-out’ is not the first option; shrewd entrepreneurs/ship-owners will just seek other oil products to transport and the market for these products is equally buoyant.


The field of application of the present proposal is based on existing regulations for tankers of more than 5000t. However, it should be reconsidered whether a special regulation for tankers with less than 5000t should be foreseen.

4.   Specific comments


Finally, the EESC believes that there is a need to clarify, or define, what is meant by the ‘heavy grade oil products’ in the proposed new paragraph 3a to Article 1 (English version).


Articles 4(4) and (5) of the (amended) Regulation (EC) No 417/2002 make reference to Article 4(3) of this Regulation. Under the proposal for a Regulation under review, the Commission proposes that a paragraph 3a) be inserted in Article 4, which would render the abovementioned references no longer applicable; this is in no way one of the objectives of the proposal for a Regulation.

Brussels, 13 September 2006.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND

(1)  OJ C 221, 7.8.2001, p. 54.

(2)  SOLAS: Safety of Life at Sea Convention.

(3)  IMO document MEPC 49/16/1.