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The EU Maritime Profile - maritime safety

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To ensure quality shipping, environmental protection and – above all – to preserve life, a comprehensive body of international and EU legislation is applied to ships in the countries where they are registered and in the countries to which they sail.

This section, for the time being, looks at how ships are inspected to increase safety, statistics on port state control, and accidents involving vessels.

The states where ships are registered, known as flag States, have an important role to play in enforcing relevant legislation and standards, because they exercise regulatory control over their registered fleet.

This way, they contribute to issues such as ensuring safety of life at sea, protection of the marine environment, and the provision of decent working and living conditions for seafarers.

Based on the safety performance of each flag State fleet, lists of States are compiled under international cooperation agreements (the so-called Port State Control Memoranda of Understanding, or MoUs) which measure the full spectrum of flag State performance. The so-called White, Grey and Black lists provide information ranging from quality flags to flags with a poor performance that are considered high or very high risk.

EU Member States have a proven record of safety, and are consequently on the white lists of the Paris MoU and the Tokyo MoU.

Inspections of EU ships

To ensure that ships are safe and comply with all safety requirements, they should be inspected on a regular basis by the authorities of the State whose flag they fly, in order to ensure jurisdiction and control in administrative, technical and social matters

However, the failure or poor performance of flag State implementation may result in sub-standard ships sailing around the globe. To avoid the proliferation of substandard shipping, an additional safety barrier, the Port State Control, was developed, which functions as a second line of defense.

Port State Control means that ships can be inspected by the authorities of states at which they call, regardless of what flag they fly. Port State controllers are entitled to verify that the condition of the ship and its equipment comply with the requirements of international maritime legislation and that the ship is manned and operated in compliance with these rules and obligations. These requirements are all defined in international maritime legislation.

Port State Control is part of the EU maritime safety legislation framework. The main regime in the European region is the Paris MoU. But as EU Member State-flagged ships undertake many international journeys on an annual basis, thousands of them then undergo inspections under various Port State Control regimes.

When a Port State Control officer finds that a ship is not compliant with the relevant international obligations, they can issue one or more deficiencies, and request that the ship be brought back to compliance within a certain timeframe. If the breach is severe enough to make the ship unseaworthy, then the Port State Control officer can issue a detention; a formal prohibition which stops the ship from leaving port.

To measure the quality of a country’s fleet, the most important factor is the percentage of detained ships of the total number of ships inspected, the so-called detention rate.

In all regions of the world, EU Member State-flagged ships have a lower detention rate than non-EU Member State-flagged ships. For instance, in the EU region (the Paris MoU) in 2020, less than one inspected ship in a hundred was detained (0.78% in the graph below), while this percentage was slightly more than two ships in a hundred for ships flying non-EU Member State flags (2.02% in the graph below).

Port State Control inspections carried out in EU Member States

EU Member States target and inspect thousands of ships calling to their ports every year. This encompasses ships flying the flag of other EU Member States and ships flying a non-EU flag.

Number of ship accidents for EU Member State-flagged vessels

Accidents statistics have been a key reactive tool for the implementation of new safety, security, pollution prevention, and protection of workers on board vessels. EMSA is charge of the European Maritime Casualty Investigation Platform (EMCIP), through which EU Member States can notify marine casualties and incidents, and report the data resulting from safety investigations.

Accidents are reported under four categories, ranging from the least serious (Marine incidents and Less Serious Accidents) to the most serious ones (Serious and Very Serious Accidents). Examples of accidents reported include: serious injuries occurring on-board; the pollution of sensitive areas; ships subject to significant structural damage and casualties which disrupt major port operations; or in extreme cases, the complete loss of a ship, death of a crew member, or severe damage to the environment.

The number of fatalities in 2020 on board ships flying flags of EU Member States, was lower than the previous two years.

Pollution events too have been declining year-on-year over the past five years.

No more than five EU Member State-flagged ships have been lost each year since 2016.