After debating a report by Sir Sydney Chapman (United Kingdom, EDG), the Assembly said this need was dramatically illustrated by four recent disasters: the wrecks of the "Erika" and "Volgoneft 248" oil tankers, a dam burst in Romania causing cyanide pollution of the Danube basin, and a discharge into a Danube tributary of sludge rich in heavy metals from a non-operating mine, also in Romania.
The parliamentarians welcomed the European Commission's proposals aimed, among others, at enforcing existing shipping safety standards and setting up a European maritime safety agency, increasing transparency in the shipping industry and improving surveillance of ships, and raising compensation ceilings under the international oil pollution and liability compensation regime. Reaffirming their strong support for the "polluter pays" principle, they pointed out that financial liability for environmental damage provides incentives for safer and cleaner industrial operations and is essential for preventing future accidents, and called on the EU to accede to the Council of Europe's Convention on civil liability for environmental damage, in the interests of the "Greater Europe".
The Assembly backed the proposal to raise compensation limits and called for bilateral and multilateral agreements between Council of Europe member States to ensure appropriate compensation to parties which suffered from accidents causing environmental damage. It stressed the need for a strict control over ship activities in international waters, including through satellites, and called on the Council's member States to take a concerted position on the EU's proposals for improving the safety of oil shipping. The Assembly noted in particular that the Council's EUR-OPA Major Hazards Partial Agreement is a suitable platform for cooperation between Eastern Europe, Western Europe and the South of the Mediterranean.
The parliamentarians also debated a report by Benno Zierer (Germany, EPP/CD) on the protection and management of the Danube basin, in the light of the two accidents which occurred in Romania. Stressing the need for a comprehensive and integrated approach to the many initiatives and activities concerning the Danube, the Assembly recommended that the Committee of Ministers consider adopting a draft European Charter of the Danube basin, proposed by the Assembly in 1997.
Dmitri Marchenkov, Council of Europe Press Service
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