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ICS and ISF comment on ‘Prestige’ Master judgement

  01.10.2010    

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International Shipping Federation (ISF), which are the principal international trade association and employers’ organisation for shipowners - representing all sectors and trades and 80% of the world merchant fleet - have made the following comment on the recent decision of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights to the effect that there was no violation of human rights in 2002 when bail was set at Euros 3 million for the release of the Master of the tanker ‘Prestige’ following the oil pollution caused by the break up of the ship off the coast of Spain.
The judgment is disappointing but not really surprising in that it confirms that even the Supreme Court of the European Court of Human Rights views this case as being about environmental disasters, rather providing a proper analysis of whether there has been an unlawful violation of the Master’s human rights.   
Seafarers deserve the security of uniformity and certainty as to how their conduct and actions will be determined by local courts, based on internationally agreed standards.  Sadly, however, it seems that a change in the current political climate will be required, which will be a long term process.
A major problem the industry faces in the immediate aftermath of a serious pollution incident is that the factors at play locally are often political rather than legal.  There is a perception amongst the public that the ‘polluter’ should be punished and foreign seafarers, by definition, have no local political constituency.  However, the industry will continue to explain that pollution will be cleaned up, and that the costs of any damage are covered, regardless of fault, by very efficient international liability regimes.
ICS and ISF will continue to lead efforts, in co-operation with other industry organisations, to press for change where national laws permit unjustified criminalisation.  Governments must be urged to recognise the supremacy of UNCLOS and MARPOL and bring national and regional laws into line with these internationally agreed standards.  Maritime administrations should also be encouraged to adopt the IMO Casualty Investigation Code into their national law and procedures.
The IMO/ILO Guidelines on the Fair Treatment of Seafarers in the Event of a Maritime Accident (which ICS and ISF negotiated with unions and governments in 2006) provide guidance on standards to be applied in the aftermath of incidents including when release on bail should be granted.  We will continue to focus on encouraging adherence by governments to the IMO/ILO Guidelines.   



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