EU: 'Rust Bucket' Tankers Blacklisted

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BRUSSELS, Belgium, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- The European Commission Tuesday published a list of tankers to be banned from EU waters after an aging vessel sunk off northwest Spain, dumping thousands of tons of oil into the Atlantic Ocean.

Responding to mounting public anger over Europe's second major oil slick in three years, the commission also urged EU governments to outlaw the transport of heavy fuel oil in vulnerable single-hull tankers.

"It's time we put a stop to time bombs circulating and navigating around our coastline," EU Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio said.

The EC's blacklist names 66 ships that have been detained on more than one occasion for failing to comply with EU maritime safety rules.

Turkey tops the chart of blacklisted flag carriers, with 26 tankers deemed to be of "high" or "very high" risk. St. Vincent and Grenadines and Cambodia were second and third on the list.

EU governments adopted a raft of stringent maritime safety rules after the Erika oil tanker devastated large swathes of the French coast in 1999. The measures, which are due to come into effect in mid-2003, envisage stepping up the control of ships entering EU waters, bringing forward the international phase-out of single-hull tankers from 2026 to 2015 and setting up a European Maritime Safety Agency.

De Palacio urged the European Union to speed up implementation of the so-called Erika I and II packages and to introduce new legislation aimed at making polluters pay for their negligence.

At a meeting in Denmark, next week, the leaders of France, Spain and Portugal -- the three countries most affected by the Prestige disaster -- are expected to urge EU heads of state to support the EC's call to advance the ban on single-hull tankers.

De Palacio also attacked the International Maritime Organization, the body that governs the world's oceans.

Calling for a "radical overhaul" of global shipping rules, the former Spanish minister said, "International maritime law is based on principles that were fine in the 18th and 19th century but they are no longer valid."

At the next IMO meeting in May 2003, the EC will press members to set up a $1 billion fund to compensate for damage resulting from major oil spills, such as the Nov. 19 sinking of the Prestige, a single-hulled tanker that broke in two about a week earlier, causing oil o wash ashore over much of northwestern Spain.

As European states squabble over who was to blame for the Prestige spill, which has blackened more than 160 beaches and devastated the fishing industry in Galicia, the commission Tuesday released a league table of ship inspections by the European Union.

EU laws due to come into effect next year require member states to check a quarter of all ships for seaworthiness. Most meet this target. However, the figures show that France only inspects one out of every 10 ships entering its waters.

The EC's statistics will be a source of embarrassment for French President Jacques Chirac, who last week railed against the "inability of those in charge, politically, nationally and particularly at European level," to prevent the Prestige slick.

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