By agreeing on the legislation regarding compensation of ship passengers in the event of accidents on 8 December 2008, the European Parliament and the Council concluded negotiations on the "third maritime safety package", which had gone to conciliation after two readings.
The third maritime package is intended to improve both the safety of ships and the action taken in the event of an accident.
Ship operators liable for damages suffered by their passengers
By the end of 2016 at the latest, operators of class A passenger ships in EU waters will be liable for any harm to their passengers. Carriers will have to pay compensation of up to €2,587 for lost or damaged cabin luggage and up to €460,000 in the case of physical harm of even death caused by fault or neglect. Parliament secured an agreement which ensures that this legal obligation will not only apply to international carriage and to class A ships (the biggest ships on domestic EU sea lanes), but also to class B vessels two years later.
MEPs led by rapporteur Paolo Costa (ALDE, IT) also won the concession from Council that the Regulation will become applicable to international carriage not just when the Athens Convention enters into force for the Community (the date for which is unclear and depends on a Council decision), but by the end of 2012 at the latest. By mid-2013 the Commission will have to bring forward legislation which covers classes C and D.
A new system for ship inspections
A directive and a regulation on common standards for ship inspection and survey organisations, for which Luis de Grandes Pascual (EPP-ED, ES) was rapporteur, will ensure that Member States effectively and consistently discharge their obligations as flag states, by establishing common rules and standards for classification societies, which are currently responsible for inspecting ships and issuing their licenses. The two pieces of legislation reform the regulation of ship classification societies in the European Union and introduce the mutual recognition of classification certificates.
In a recast of the port state control directive, which has already been revised several times, Council had wanted only a temporary ban on the use of substandard vessels in EU ports, in contrast to the EP's first and second reading reports drawn up by Dominique Vlasto (EPP-ED, FR). At Parliament's insistence, however, ships repeatedly found to be breach of the rules may be put on an EU-wide black list permanently. Furthermore, the EP delegation ensured that the directive's inspection requirements will also apply to vessels calling at offshore anchorages, and not only at ports, and that there will be more frequent controls. Port state control concerns the inspection of foreign ships in national ports.
Independent authority to decide where a ship in distress should go
The conciliation committee also agreed on a revision of the directive on a Community vessel traffic monitoring and information system, for which Dirk Sterckx (ALDE, BE) was the EP rapporteur. Parliament negotiators ensured that Member States must designate a competent authority with the power to take independent decisions which, in the event of a rescue operation, will decide on the best course of action to prevent a disaster, including which port should accommodate a "ship in need of assistance". At present valuable time is wasted in deciding which port should accommodate a vessel in distress.
Investigations into maritime accidents
Another directive on which the Parliament and Council agreed lays down the conditions for investigations into the causes of shipping accidents. Here, MEPs led by Jaromír Kohliček (GUE/NGL, CZ) managed to convince Member States that such investigations should not be restricted only to very serious accidents. In the case of accidents which are not disastrous but which are still deemed to be serious, a preliminary assessment will have to be made as to whether a full investigation is necessary. The directive also lays down that in principle each accident shall be investigated by only one Member State. Only in very exceptional cases could parallel investigations be conducted. Finally, MEPs obtained appropriate legal protection for witnesses.
Common position on two "missing files" on flag state obligations and civil liability
Until recently, two proposals relating to flag state obligations (report by Emanuel Jardim Fernandes, PES, PT) and on civil liability (report by Gilles Savary, PES, FR), which were part of the maritime package, were blocked in Council. In second reading Parliament had introduced amendments from these two "missing files" into other maritime package reports. Following this, Council agreed on common positions on these two remaining pieces of legislation.
Ø The third reading is scheduled for March 2009