EU Seeks to Expand Ship Inspections for Safety and Pollution

EU port state controls
EU proposed to expand port state controls to enhance safety and prevent against pollution (file photo)

Published Jun 2, 2023 1:13 PM by The Maritime Executive

The European Commission presented five legislative proposals which it says are designed to modernize EU rules on maritime safety and prevent water pollution from ships.  According to legislators, the new rules would provide new tools and align EU rules with international regulations while increasing the authority of port state controls and expanding efforts to cover commercial fishing.

It was highlighted that maritime safety in EU waters is currently very high with few fatalities and no recent major oil spills. The legislators however said that there are over 2,000 marine accidents and incidents reported each year and the dangers are rising. They are seeking to modernize and expand the current controls while expanding the mandate of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) to meet emerging challenges and enhance maritime safety.

Three out of the five proposals focus on modernizing and improving maritime safety rules. The focus is on Port State control and maritime accident investigations, seeking to strengthen the enforcement of the rules to reduce incidents and accidents. Port State control would be extended to cover additional international rules, such as new Conventions on ballast water and sediments and the removal of wrecks. The proposal also updates the way ships are targeted for inspection, to reflect new requirements and will attach more importance to the environmental-related performance and deficiencies of ships, in determining their risk profile. 

Other changes will further improve member states' capacity to detect and correct a lack of compliance with safety or with environmental and pollution prevention rules and standards. The proposal calls for increased information-sharing between flag states on the results of inspections they carry out and compliance issues in general. National accident investigation bodies would also receive further support from EMSA.

One of the biggest proposed changes would seek to extend port state control and accident investigation to fishing vessels. The legislators highlighted the significant safety concerns among fishing boats saying persist that member states could choose to apply port state control for fishing vessels calling at EU ports that are over 78 feet long. Further, for the most serious accidents involving smaller fishing vessels measuring less than 50 feet, member states would be required to report and screen the accidents for possible lessons to be learned. 

The rules governing illegal discharges would also be expanded to cover a wider range of polluting substances. In addition to illegal discharges of oil and noxious liquid substances, which were covered under existing rules, the Commission proposes to also include discharges of harmful substances carried in packaged form, sewage, garbage, as well as discharge waters and residues from Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems (scrubbers).

The role of EMSA would also be amended to provide new authority and to assist in the implementation of the EU’s efforts addressing not only safety but also pollution, environmental protection, and surveillance. The Commission will also rely on EMSA's support when implementing the FuelEU Maritime Regulation and extending the EU Emissions Trading System to maritime transport. 

The proposals will now be considered by the European Parliament and the Council in the ordinary legislative procedure.