Double Hulled Tankers for Heavy Oil Now Law in Europe

STRASBOURG, France, April 28, 2007 (ENS) - European officials Wednesday signed into law a requirement that only double hulled tankers carrying heavy oil can enter European ports. The law was enacted in response to disastrous oil spills from single hulled tankers the Erika in 1999 and the Prestige in 2002.

President of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Pottering, and Guenter Gloser, German Presidency representative and minister of wtate for European affairs in the German government, both signed the European Parliament and Council Regulation into law.

Pottering said the law represents an important response to offshore tanker accidents and will lead to better protection of the seas and the environment from oil spills.

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President Hans-Gert Pöttering signs the oil tanker regulation while German Presidency representative Guenter Gloser looks on. (Photo courtesy Office of the President)
"With this regulation, which will enter into force in a few weeks’ time in the member states of the European Union, an important step has been taken to protect the seas from dangerous oil pollution in the event of shipwrecks," Pottering declared after the signing.

Under the new regulation, oil tankers transporting heavy oils will only be allowed to fly the flag of a European Union member state if they are double hulled.

In addition, regardless of what flag they are flying, only double hulled tankers will be able to enter member states' harbors or anchor in their territorial waters.

The regulation applies in all the 27 member states and, now that it has been signed, will enter into force on the 20th day after its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union.

European lawmakers began to pay close attention to oil spill damage after the single hulled Maltese tanker Erika broke up and sank off the French coast on December 12, 1999, spilling an estimated 3,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil that formed a slick 15 kilometers long. It polluted the north and south banks of the Loire River and the Brittany coast.

Concern intensified after the Bahamas-flagged single hulled tanker, the Prestige, sank off Spain in November 2002, releasing 80 percent of the tanker's 77,000 metric tons of fuel oil into the waters off Spain's northeast coast.

Because the leaking Prestige drifted at sea for eight days, the spill contaminated six countries, with the worst impacts seen in Spain, Portugal, and France.

Prestige

The oil tanker Prestige sinks (Photo courtesy Cedre)
Experts predict the Prestige spill will affect marine life until at least 2012 because the oil spilled contained polyaromatic hydrocarbons. These toxic chemicals poison plankton, fish eggs and crustaceans, causing carcinogenic effects in fish and other animals higher up the food chain.

In July 2003, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers passed a law accelerating the phase-in of double-hull oil tankers and requiring a condition assessment for all tankers older than 15 years.

Now, to provide additional protection against oil spills, the European Maritime Safety Agency, EMSA, has developed a satellite based monitoring system for marine oil spill detection and surveillance in European waters. The CLEANSEANET service provides a range of detailed information including oil spill alerts to member states, rapid delivery of available satellite images and oil slick position.

While some EU member states already use satellite data to support marine surveillance on a national or regional level, other member states have not taken action in this field so far.

The EMSA says a common approach to oil spill surveillance at the European level, using compatible data standards and methodologies, will support the development of robust statistics for oil pollution monitoring and create baseline measurements that may be extended in the future.

For the detection of polluters, a European level system of continuous spill information with vessel traffic data should become operational in 2008.