Letter: Balanced EC approach to oil disasters

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The Independent Online
Sir: The accident involving the Braer is indeed a terrible lesson for the European Community and its trading partners. However, it does no service to misquote the European Parliament's response to the disaster (leading article, 22 January).

The Parliament made 15 suggestions (not three as you report), designed to improve safety and environmental protection, and it argued that, while the International Maritime Organisation is certainly the main forum within which discussions should be carried out, the European Community itself should not hesitate to use its economic and political power to force change on that sometimes conservative body.

The Parliament wants to see the development of a comprehensive vessel traffic management system in Europe and it wants to see the European Community make advances towards better design, better vessel inspection and more comprehensive safety procedures on board ships. We do not believe that pilotage through environmentally sensitive waters, or the development of radar systems, or even the definition of exclusion zones would 'simply produce a tit- for-tat response around the world', or that it would necessarily be bad if one of its consequences was that such accidents would not take place. The United States took unilateral action after its Alaskan tragedy. Surely the European Community should be no less careful? We also asked for a stronger European Community line on the practice of flagging out, in the belief that this practice ultimately reduces the possibility of high standards of control, safety and training.

The European Parliament asked for long-term environmental studies in the Shetland Islands, so that the rest of the Community, and indeed the rest of the world, might benefit from a careful analysis of the long-term effects of oil spillage, not only on coastal marine life, but in this case on agricultural land as well.

It may be that some of the oil companies would be happy if we went less far in our demands. However, I think that your readers will judge that the European Parliament's approach to the matter is balanced and will lead to better standards of tanker management around the world.

Yours sincerely,


MEP for Strathclyde East (Lab)

East Kilbride

The writer is chairman of the European Parliament's Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Protection.