From: Associated Press
Published October 27, 2004 12:00 AM

Three Countries Block E.U. Plan to Penalize Polluters

BRUSSELS, Belgium — Greece, Cyprus, and Malta blocked European Union proposals Tuesday to set minimum punishments for skippers and shipping companies responsible for oil slicks.

At a meeting of European justice ministers in Luxembourg, the three Mediterranean countries argued the rules would penalize their merchant fleets by going further than international agreements applicable to competitors from outside the E.U.

The E.U. rules set a series of minimum punishments of up to 10 years imprisonment and fines of euro1.5 million (US$1.9 million) for major pollution resulting from deliberate acts or gross negligence.

Failure to agree in Luxembourg means the issue may be taken up at next week's E.U. summit in Brussels, diplomats said.

Greece, Malta, and Cyprus also want to revise the package to impose a ceiling on the liability that shipping companies can face if there is a pollution disaster. Without that, they say, it will become impossible for shippers to get insurance cover.

They have received little support from other nations pushing for tougher rules to prevent repeats of the 2002 Prestige disaster in northwestern Spain. The stricken tanker spilled tens of thousands of tons (millions of gallons) of oil into the sea contaminating beaches from Portugal to southwest France.

Transport ministers from the 25 E.U. nations agreed in June on the principle "that all discharges of polluting substances are considered infringements if they are committed with intent, recklessly or by serious negligence."

That agreement would allow E.U. governments to impose "effective, proportionate, and dissuasive sanctions" against those responsible.

It passed despite the reservations of Greece, Malta, and Cyprus. However proposals setting the minimum levels of sanctions needs unanimous approval from all 25 governments before it can become E.U. law.

Source: Associated Press

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