Tanker sinking raises EU maritime safety stakes

Prodi, de Palacio, urge transport ministers to back proposals for action after Ievoli Sun accident

Following Tuesday's sinking of a chemical tanker close to France, European Commission president Romano Prodi and transport commissioner Loyola de Palacio have criticised EU transport ministers for seeking to water down a set of draft maritime safety directives (ENDS Daily 22 March).

The two commissioners urged ministers to reconsider their positions ahead of further discussions scheduled for next month. Meanwhile, French president Jacques Chirac said yesterday that two tankers sinking off the French coast in less than a year proved that rules to protect the marine environment needed to catch up with regulation of air quality.

Carrying nearly 4,000 tonnes of the hydrocarbon styrene as well as other chemicals, the Italian-registered Ievoli Sun foundered in high seas and was being towed to Cherbourg when it sank 45 kilometres off the coast of Normandy. The incident has reignited fears over environmental risks from shipping less than a year after the Erika oil spill (ENDS Daily 12 January).

The Ievoli Sun was classed by Italian safety certification agency Rina, which also classed the Erika, as well as an oil tanker called Nunki that in June was named "rustbucket of the month" by international port state control body Paris MOU (ENDS Daily 27 June).

French transport minister Jean-Claude Gayssot and Shell Chemicals, co-charterer of the ship, have both maintained that the accident will not have serious environmental impacts. Samples of air and water taken yesterday near the site have, thus far, shown no signs of styrene, and the chemical is not persistent in the environment.

It remains unclear whether the Ievoli Sun sinking would have been avoided had the Commission's maritime safety proposals already been signed into EU law. Contradictory reports have emerged on the state of the 11-year-old, double-hulled chemical tanker prior to its sinking. The ship's Italian owner and Shell Chemicals have defended the tanker's inspection record. But some press reports have alleged that the Ievoli Sun was in such poor condition that it had been detained three times by Dutch port authorities.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111; Commission pages on maritime safety; French transport ministry, tel: +33 1 40 812 122; Shell press release.

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