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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Europe Bans Single-Hull Tankers

APVolunteers on Saturday helping clean some of the hundreds of kilometers of Spanish coast contaminated by the Prestige oil spill.
BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union on Friday banned single-hull tankers carrying heavy fuel oil from entering EU ports in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the oil slick that hit Spain's Atlantic coast last month.

"We will no longer accept single-hull tankers in our waters," Danish Economy Minister Bendt Bendtsen told a news briefing after chairing a meeting of European environment ministers. "We must get rid of them as soon as possible."

The ban, which also affects single-hull carriers of tar, bitumen and heavy crude -- which the EU said made up around 15 percent of world oil shipments -- will take effect as soon as governments have published it in their official gazettes.

Other types of crude are not affected by the ban.

"I cannot tell you whether the decree will come out tomorrow or if it will take a fortnight," said EU Transport and Energy Commissioner Loyola de Palacio.

The EU will try to get all countries wanting to join the bloc, including the Baltic states, and major oil exporter Russia to impose a similar ban.

Ministers were spurred to act after the 26-year-old single-hull tanker Prestige carrying 77,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil from Russia broke up and sank off Spain last month, releasing a black tide of toxic sludge onto the beaches of Galicia.

The tanker was contracted by Swiss-based Crown Resources, which is controlled by Alfa Group head Mikhail Fridman.

The new measures are much tougher and more immediate than the EU reaction to the Erika tanker disaster off the northern French coast in December 1999.

Then, the EU succeeded in accelerating a global phase-out of single-hull tankers and tightened port rules, but many of the new rules have still not been implemented, and environmentalists have accused politicians of acting too late.

The message that the EU was now getting tougher on "rustbucket" ships was evident days after the Prestige incident.

France, Spain, Portugal and Italy said they had the right to order vessels older than 15 years to keep at least 320 kilometers from their coasts if spot checks showed they posed a threat.

Spanish and Portuguese navy ships used the powers for the first time on Monday when they expelled a Prestige-type tanker.

The International Association of Independent Tanker Owners said the ban would distort shipping markets but would not cause widespread disruption as any shortfall would be made up by modern double-hulled vessels.

"The ideal solution would of course be to do it through an international procedure that exists within the International Maritime Organization, for it to be applied universally," Intertanko director Peter Swift said. "We always prefer to have global legislation rather than unilateral."

But the EU is likely to produce more unilateral action.

De Palacio said she would propose a bill next week to ban all single-hull tankers older than 15 years from EU waters by 2010, whatever their cargo.

The IMO, the United Nations body which governs world shipping, has a phase-out program that allows some single-hull vessels to remain in service until 2015.

The proposed EU law would also ban all tankers older than 23 years.

"We want to avoid these ecological time-bombs from sailing in our waters," de Palacio said.

The U.S. Congress passed legislation in 1990 to phase out all shipments of oil cargoes in single-hull vessels in U.S. waters from 1995 through 2014, with the oldest and largest vessels being phased out first, according to the Government Accounting Office.

The EU will also push the IMO to create a 1 billion euro fund to compensate the victims of oil slicks -- up from a current maximum level of 200 million euros.

If there is no agreement at the IMO, the EU will consider setting up its own system before the end of 2003, ministers said.