Prescott pledges to save the seas

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The Independent Online
DEPUTY Prime Minister John Prescott will tomorrow launch a personal crusade to save the world's oceans. He will use Britain's presidency of the European Union to press for a wide range of measures including an international treaty on cleaning up the seas, limits on fishing, and new rules on disposing of oil rigs to prevent further fiascos such as that surounding the Brent Spar.

Fresh from leading European countries in brokering international agreement on fighting global warming in Kyoto in December, he now plans to harness Britain's new-found environmental prestige and the clout of the EU in the officially designated International Year of the Oceans. He is to fire the first shot of his campaign in a speech at a conference in Stockholm.

Mr Prescott told the Independent on Sunday yesterday: "Now that we have got global warming into some legal framework, we now need to toughen up on protecting our oceans.

"What happened at Kyoto showed that Europe can be a major force for change in the international environmental scene. Britain hopes to use the presidency to ensure that it is. My own close involvement with the sea convinces me of the importance of protecting it."

As he will tell tomorrow's conference - organised by the Advisory Committee on Oil Pollution of the Sea - the Deputy Prime Minister has long had a strong personal "commitment" to the issue. A former seaman, and a passionate diver, he went into politics partly to reform 19th-century acts which still governed Britain's shipping in the 1960s.

As MP for Hull, he has watched the port's fishing fleet decline. He was give his first government job as a junior transport minister - by Lord Callaghan, who is chairing tomorrow's conference - on the strength of his marine experience. And in 1983 he swam down the Thames in protest against dumping radioactive waste at sea.

In his speech he will outline "seven threats to the seven seas": pollution from ships; dumping waste; discharges from the land; overfishing; exploitation of oil, gas and other minerals; coastal development; and global warming, and he will propose a series of measures for tackling them.

n He wants the EU to draw up an agreement, by the time Britain's presidency ends this summer, on disposing of offshore installations such as Brent Spar.

n He plans to throw the EU's weight behind UN attempts to get the world's governments to agree on an international treaty controlling pollution discharged from land to the sea. And he will tomorrow assure the Swedish environment minister that the government is clamping down on radioactive emissions from Sellafield.

n He will chair a special joint meeting of EU fisheries and environment ministers in March to examine ways of stopping overfishing in the North Sea.

n He will use the presidency to press for new rules on discharging waste from ships and wants to get more countries to agree to ban dumping at sea.