27 October, 2004
LUXEMBOURG 27/10/2004 (ANA/G.Zitouniati)
Greece, Cyprus and Malta voted against reinforcing the penal framework regarding pollution caused by ocean-going vessels and tankers during an EU Ministers' Council meeting here on Tuesday, thus indefinitely postponing approval of the relevant directive which needed unanimous support in order to pass.
According to Merchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefaloyannis who, escorted by Justice Minister Anastasios Papaligouras, represented Greece at the two-day meeting on Justice and Internal Affairs, the Directive goes against merchant sailors who would be penalized in case of sea pollution, while ship-owners could easily avoid repercussions by changing flags.
Speaking during the meeting, Kefaloyannis said that "the proposed changes would be disastrous for the European shipping sector since they will cause a decline in the sector, a sector of vital importance for the EU, by removing EU flags from our ships and preventing us from finding European sailors to keep Europe's shipping know-how alive."
He said that excessive penalization of the merchant shipping profession would discourage more ships from joining EU shipping registers, and would serve as a disincentive for businessmen to engage in shipping activity and for young professionals to join the shipping sector, thus jeopardizing established EU policies.
"Therefore, it is imperative that the EU support shipping actively and effectively and that it contributes towards reinforcing the sector's competitiveness as well as protecting the environment," Kefaloyannis said. He emphasized that he is not convinced that penalizing shipping accidents due to negligence will result in better protection of Europe's seas and shores. "And this because we believe that penalizing accidents will reduce the sense of responsibility of both ship-owners and sailors, who will no longer have an incentive to contain the damage of an accident since they will be punished nonetheless," he explained.
After the meeting, Kefaloyannis told reporters that a battle had been fought in Luxembourg to protect the interests of Greek shipping. "We refused the unequal treatment of Greek sailors and the penalizing of the shipping profession. Greece, which is based on two pillars - shipping and tourism - is certainly sensitive to environmental issues. This is also why our country has one of the strictest legal frameworks regarding ocean pollution in place. However, this does not justify the attitude of certain member-states that merchant shipping should commit 'financial suicide'."
According to Kefaloyannis, this is European 'masochism' since any ship owner can abandon the European flag at any time while merchant sailors will be subject to criminal charges.
Source: Athens News Agency