European Union transport ministers on Dec. 6 proposed banning single-hull tankers, carrying heavy fuel oil, from entering EU ports in a bid to prevent a repetition of the oil pollution disaster hitting Spain.
The ministers recommended that EU leaders agree on the ban when they convene for the summit in Copenhagen, a source close to the EU's Danish presidency said.
The ban would be imposed as an administrative order taking immediate effect, pending new EU legislation next summer, the official said.
The ministers also proposed bringing forward a ban on single-hull tankers carrying other types of oil, without fixing a date.
EU legislation already in place foresees a ban on all single-hull oil freighters by 2015. Single-hull ships such as the Prestige, which sank off northern Spain last month, are seen as more vulnerable than ones with a double hull.
Up to 20,000 tons of oil is estimated to have escaped from the Prestige's 77,000 ton cargo, creating an ecological disaster on the Galician coast.
Under the EU proposals, single-hull vessels carrying cargoes of heavy oil will be banned from European ports in principle as of Jan. 1.
The European Commission was asked to seek a similar ruling from countries adjacent to the EU, including Russia.
The 15 ministers also asked the commission to consider legal means necessary to prevent singled-hull tankers carrying heavy oil from approaching within 200 nautical miles of EU coasts or entering members' exclusive economic zones.
European Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio called for the last single-hull tanker to be banned by 2010, as opposed to 2015 under current EU regulations.
On vessels carrying dangerous substances, the EU called for all 15 members to adopt measures already decided on by France and Spain.
These consist in checking and possibly ordering out of their waters vessels deemed to be carrying dangerous and polluting substances found within a limit of 200 nautical miles of their coasts.
EU transport ministers also pressed for the creation within the framework of the International Maritime Organization of a compensation fund for damage caused by oil slicks, which could disburse up to 1 billion euros and go into operation by the end of 2003.
The 15 also urged that stricter checks on ships should begin Jan. 1, 2003, instead of next July as originally foreseen. If the 15 nations get their way, European pilots will be obliged to report problems on ships they are guiding, even if the vessels are only in transit.
They also want to bring forward by a year to next July the compilation of a list of refuge ports for ships in distress.
The ministers called for implementation of sanctions against persons causing pollution due to serious negligence. They sought a review of rules under international law to end "irresponsibility and negligence" tolerated by states providing ships with flags of convenience.
They further proposed an examination of a joint mechanism under which oil companies, shipping companies used by them, ship owners, charterers and insurance companies should provide resources not only to prevent but also to combat effectively ecological disasters such as that involving the Prestige and the Erika, a tanker that sank off the Brittany coast in 1999.