France to prohibit single-hulled oil tankers

Government wins industry commitment to stronger safety controls on marine oil transport

French oil, shipping and tanker inspection organisations yesterday signed a charter aimed at improving safety of oil tankers after five hours of discussions chaired by transport minister Jean-Claude Gayssot. The charter includes a commitment to exclude all single-hulled tankers from French waters from 2008, marking the first such move by a European state. The meeting was organised as part of the French government's response to December's Erika tanker sinking (ENDS Daily 7 January).

The charter was signed by eleven organisations including TotalFina, the owner of the Erika's cargo, French oil firm association Ufip and classification agency Bureau Veritas. The commitments it includes give a strong indication of proposals that France will present to its EU partners when it launches a promised maritime safety initiative when it takes over as EU presidency in July (ENDS Daily 8 February).

Banning single-hulled tankers from 2008 is a key commitment in the charter. The US government passed a law in in 1990 that will allow only double-hulled craft to use its ports from 2010. Until now no parallel initiative had been taken by the EU or its member states.

The charter's signatories also commit themselves to tighter control and inspection rules. In particular, they will not use any oil tanker over 14 years old unless it has had a detailed inspection within the last two-and-a-half years, rather than the existing requirement of five years. Reinforced safety inspections are currently only required once tankers reach the age of 20 years.

In addition, signatories are committed to reject tankers that have assessed by a series of different classification societies in turn, and all parties undertake to provide all information necessary to a database called Equasis that will store ship safety and inspection data. Furthermore, parties will refuse to use any ships flying the flag of a country that has not complied with International Maritime Organisation safety rules.

French oil association Ufip expressed support for the agreement today. A spokesperson told ENDS Daily that the industry welcomed confirmation that good ship maintenance was key and that ships over 20 years old should not be banned outright. The extra costs of moving entirely to double-hulled tankers would only add approximately euro cent 0.15 (FFr0.01) per litre to the retail price of fuel, the spokesperson added.

Follow Up:
French transport ministry, tel: +33 1 40 81 21 22. The charter is due to be posted on the ministry's web site soon. See also an article published today in French newspaper Le Monde.

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