EU proposes new safety and pollution targets for shipping

The European Commission (EC) has presented five legislative proposals to update EU regulations on maritime safety and prevent water pollution caused by ships. The proposals seek to align EU rules with international standards, enhance implementation and enforcement through digitalisation, and support “clean and modern shipping”.

The package includes three proposals focused on improving maritime safety rules, emphasizing port state control and maritime accident investigations to reduce incidents, safeguard human lives, and prevent environmental pollution.

The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) is expected to play a key role in the implementation of the new requirements through the support it will offer member state administrations to enforce the new rules.

Requirements have been proposed for flag state inspections based on international rules, as well as specific EMSA trainings for national administrations to enhance the controls that member state authorities have over their fleets. This is expected to improve maritime safety and reduce the risks of environmental pollution, ensuring that EU flag states “continue to stand for high quality shipping services”. The proposal facilitates information-sharing between flag states on the results of inspections they carry out and compliance issues in general. 

In addition, port state control will be extended to cover additional international rules, such as new conventions on ballast water and sediments and removal of wrecks. The proposal also updates the way ships are targeted for inspection, to reflect new requirements and will attach more importance to the environmental related performance and deficiencies of ships in determining their risk profile. For cargo and passenger vessels of over 5,000 gross tonnes (regarded as the most polluting), the ship risk profile will take account of the vessel’s IMO carbon intensity indicator.

Other changes will further improve member states’ capacity to detect and correct a lack of compliance with safety or environmental and pollution prevention rules and standards. The scope of port state control and accident investigation will also be extended to include fishing vessels. Flag state and port state control operations will be digitalised and the uptake of electronic certificates will be encouraged, which will be made possible via to EMSA’s IT systems and databases.

To tackle ship-source pollution, the Commission is also proposing the prevention of any type of illegal discharge into European seas. “Achieving this requires that illegal discharges are detected, infringements are pursued and perpetrators of illegal activities are sanctioned,” the EC said.

The proposal aligns EU rules with international regulations and extends the scope of covering illegal discharges of oil and noxious liquid substances to harmful substances carried in packaged form, sewage, garbage, as well as discharge waters and residues from scrubbers. While the current scope of the ship’s pollution directive does not include air pollutant emissions, in view of their impacts on air quality in port and coastal areas, the Commission said it will assess how to include these in the future.

Among the proposals are also the optimisation of EMSA’s surveillance and information sharing database, CleanSeaNet, and the strengthening of the legal framework in order to enable national authorities to adopt adequate measures in cases of an illegal discharge and to impose penalties.

The proposal includes the updating of EMSA’s mandate to better reflect the growing role that the agency plays in many sectors of maritime transport, including safety, pollution prevention and environmental protection, among others, as the Commission and the Member States will rely on its support when implementing the FuelEU Maritime Regulation and extending the EU Emissions Trading System to maritime transport.

“One of the main drivers for the revision of the five legislative texts is the need to and benefits of aligning with updated international regulations. The co-existence of misaligned standards and rules creates burden and legal uncertainty for the industry and national administrations and undermines the level-playing field and the competitiveness of EU shipping,” the Commission noted.

“Enhancing the enforcement of international environmental law is paramount by adapting rules on compliance and liabilities for illegal behaviour and pollution. Digitalisation provides a massive opportunity for enhancing safety and sustainability, but it needs to be fully harnessed. The prospect of autonomous ships and smart systems requires preparation, testing, regulatory updates, and training and reskilling. The health and safety, working and living conditions of seafarers and maritime transport workers at large also need greater attention,” the EC said in a letter to the European Parliament and the Council, which will now consider the proposals in the ordinary legislative procedure.

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