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EU Clamps Down On Maritime Safety Failings

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

01 June 2012

The European Commission has launched two infringement proceedings, against Spain and Italy, over the nations' failure to adopt European legislation that seeks to ensure best standards in safety are met in the maritime industry.

In the case of Italy, the European Commission has requested that it adopt national legislation that would require vessels to only install equipment that meets the latest safety standards. The rules, updated in 2010 in the Maritime Equipment Directive, aim to reach a uniform application of international standards on marine equipment in the European Union (EU). The directive, which relates to items such as lifesaving appliances, fire protection or radio communication equipment on board European ships, is updated on a regular basis to ensure that such equipment complies with the most up to date requirements.

EU member states were required to have adopted the updated list of acceptable safety equipment by December 10, 2011. Italy has been given two months to comply with the request, as part of the first stage of the European Commission's infringement proceedings.

In the second matter, the Commission has requested that Spain amend its legislation relating to health and safety requirements for vessels engaged in fishing. In particular, the Commission has said that Spain must clarify the definition of the term 'owner' of a fishing vessel so that it clearly determines who is responsible for complying with EU health and safety requirements.

The Commission underscored that without a clear definition of who is responsible in practice for applying the health and safety rules on a fishing vessel, there is a risk that the rules will not be applied. Under EU law, the owner of a fishing vessel is the registered owner of a vessel, unless that vessel has been chartered by demise (a lease agreement to hire a ship in which the charterer assumes the legal responsibilities of the owner, and obtains a complete control and management of the ship) or is managed by a natural or legal person other than the registered owner under the terms of a management agreement.

Presently, Spanish national law does not fit with EU law as it permits persons who charter vessels under various chartering agreements to qualify as owners. These include, for instance, time charterers who are not in a position to fulfil the duties of the owner regarding health and safety on board fishing vessels due to the specific character of time charter arrangements.

In addition, the Commission noted that Spanish national law states that those "engaged in exploiting the vessels" qualify as owners. Thus, in cases where the vessel is chartered, the Spanish law permits both the registered owner (who is engaged indirectly in the exploitation of a vessel according to the national authorities) and the charterer to qualify as owner. Therefore, the national law does not allow a clear definition of who will bear the responsibilities imposed on owners regarding health and safety of workers on board fishing vessels.

Spain, too, has two months to comply with the Commission's request.

TAGS: marine

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