In recent years, the European Union and its Member States have been at the forefront of improving maritime safety legislation and promoting high-quality standards. The aim is to eliminate substandard shipping, increase the protection of passengers and crews, reduce the risk of environmental pollution, and ensure that operators who follow good practices are not put at a commercial disadvantage compared to those prepared to take short cuts with vessel safety.
Whilst many flag States and owners are meeting their international obligations, their efforts are constantly undermined by those who do not play the game according to the rules. When operators break the rules on safety and environmental protection, they put crews and the environment at risk, and in addition benefit from unfair competition.
Shipping is of strategic importance to the EU’s economy: every year, two billion tonnes of cargo are loaded and unloaded at EU ports, while one billion tonnes of oil transits through EU ports and EU waters. This is why the EU is constantly developing and intensifying its maritime safety policy to eradicate substandard shipping, essentially through a convergent application of internationally agreed rules.
EU action in the field of maritime safety and protection of the environment generates significant added value to the international legal framework, such as SOLAS and MARPOL, which is overseen by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Furthermore, the transposition of IMO rules into the EU legal system ensures their "harmonized application" across the entire EU. In addition, EU plays an important role in improving international standards by initiating and contributing directly to their development and adoption at international level.
The "Erika" and the "Prestige" accidents encouraged the EU to drastically reform its existing regime and to adopt new rules and standards for preventing accidents at sea, particularly those involving oil tankers. The EU considerably reinforced its legislative arsenal to combat flags of convenience and give Europe better protection against the risks of accidental oil spills. With the Third Maritime Safety Package adopted in 2009, the EU expanded its legislative arsenal covering all chains of responsibility in the maritime sector. The focus now is on proper implementation and enforcement as well as continuous evaluation to ensure that this legislation is fit for purpose. The European Commission can rely on the technical and scientific assistance of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA)