European Parliament?s Safety-at-Sea Committee seeks testimony from Prestige Master

By MarEx 2012-12-17 13:37:00

The European Parliament's new Temporary Committee on Improving Safety at Sea is demanding that the Spanish authorities authorize Captain Mangouras of the "PRESTIGE" to appear before it.

Georg Jarzembowski (EPP-ED, D), chairman of the committee, said that the captain must be allowed to tell it what had happened when the ship sank off the Galician coast in November, 2002.

Since the disaster, the Greek Captain has been under house arrest and has not been allowed to leave Spain. Mr Jarzembowski urged the Spanish Government commissioner on the Prestige disaster, Francisco Uria Fernandez, to take the necessary steps.

However, Mr. Uria Fernandez said the captain was the subject of a legal investigation and only a Spanish court could decide whether to allow him to travel. The Committee has stated that it will contact the judge in charge of the case.

Mr. Uria Fern?ndez also told the Committee that Spain?s decision not to allow the ?Prestige? to enter a Galician port had been the right one and that the authorities would do the same if such a disaster were to happen again. The European Council voiced serious concern over this statement and referred to new EU legislation on ports of refuge, which makes it compulsory to bring a ?vessel-in-distress? into a port. The Committee also questioned the Spanish Government representative about 21,000 tons of crude oil still considered to be "missing" off the Galician coast.

Steven Clinch, representing the Bahamas Maritime Authority (the flag state of the Prestige) came under fire by the Committee over Bahamas role as a flag state. The Committee would like to know, a year after the disaster, why the Bahamas have not sent any documentation regarding the tanker to the Spanish authorities. They also criticized The Bahamas for allowing older ships with badly trained crews to sail the world's seas.

The Bahamian representative did not answer most of the questions, but stated that the Bahamas were on the white list of flag states regarded as properly implementing international maritime agreements. Mr. Clinch finally refused to give any information on the contents of the Bahamian report on the ?Prestige,? stating that it would be published in due course during 2004.

Mr. Willem De Ruiter, director of the new European Agency for Maritime Safety (EMSA), told the Committee that the EU?s unilateral legislation regarding single-hull tankers is having a worldwide impact. Under the EU?s ?port state control directive,? EU inspectors are now able to check 25% of non-EU vessels at EU ports. The new directive on classification societies (inspection bodies) allowed EMSA officials to monitor these societies worldwide, from Honduras to Cambodia. Any infringements would be followed by immediately sanctions. EMSA said it would also investigate the standard of training levels and certificates for seamen from non-EU countries.

Committee members are now calling for a ?European Coast Guard? to be set up. Also hitting the spotlight are concerns over the growing number of old single-hull Russian tankers transporting crude oil in non-open seas such as the Baltic and the Mediterranean, which could lead to major environmental disasters. The Commission said it would tackle this problem in due course.

Mr. Raul Garcia, representing the World Wildlife Fund, said it would take at least 10 to 20 years for the maritime environment to recover from the ?Prestige? disaster. He requested that there be EU legislation to tackle the environmental problems, much like the United States? OPA90, in case there were another tanker disaster.

Mr. Ramon Herman, representing the Spanish oil company Repsol, said he was confident that no more oil would leak from the ?Prestige? and that the salvage operation would start next year. Finally, according to Mr. Eduard Landrain, chairman of the French Assembly's inquiry committee on maritime safety, only coordination, investment, and technical equipment such as tugs and salvage vessels at EU level could prevent another maritime disaster of this kind.