World oil tanker safety deal struck

Agreement on 2015 ban on all single-hulled vessels follows EU pressure for faster phase-out

International talks on speeding up a global phase-out of single-hulled oil tankers came to a successful end on Friday in London. Members of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) agreed to a 2015 deadline for almost all such vessels. The deal means that previously threatened unilateral EU action is now very unlikely.

Reached during talks in the IMO's environment committee, the agreement is a victory for the EU, which last year pushed for reassessment of an existing global phase-out schedule (ENDS Daily 21 August 2000). Under previous IMO rules, single-hulled oil tankers were not due to disappear until 2026. The new phase-out deadline will be a truly global one since it is the same as that imposed unilaterally by the USA for its ports after the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.

Oil tanker safety rose up the EU political agenda following the 1999 Erika oil spill (ENDS Daily 7 January 2000) and EU transport ministers sparked controversy by agreeing to go it alone on new controls unless a satisfactory global phase-out deal could be struck.

The IMO is also pleased with the outcome of last week's talks, since not only has the threat of unilateral EU action been averted, but "IMO's position as the proper forum for dealing with complex technical, economic and political issues concerning international shipping" has been reaffirmed, according to IMO secretary general William O'Neil. Mr O'Neil has consistently criticised EU moves to impose controls outside the IMO framework (ENDS Daily 17 March 2000).

* During last week's session, the IMO environment committee also continued discussions on plans to ban the organotin compound tributyltin (TBT) as a ship anti-fouling paint by 2008. One question yet to be resolved is whether TBT paint on ships will have to be removed by sandblasting or whether a sealer painted over the TBT will be sufficient. Provided agreement can be reached over the coming months the ban should be approved at an IMO diplomatic conference in October.

Follow Up:
IMO, tel: +44 20 77 35 76 11, press release.

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