Ladies and gentlemen
Let me welcome you to this conference, where we have gathered an impressive range of representatives from all sectors interested and involved in passenger ship safety. Thank you all for coming to Brussels.
I think it would be hard for people today not to have thought, or heard, about accidents at sea. In a little over two years' time, it will be 20 years since the Estonia cruise ferry went down between Tallinn and Stockholm. Earlier this month, of course, we had the centenary to mark the sinking of the Titanic.
Slightly less well remembered, perhaps, was last month's 25-year anniversary of the capsizing of the Herald of Free Enterprise roll-on roll-off ferry at Zeebrugge. Why do I mention these shipping tragedies?
Because the resulting loss of life, the reasons behind the accidents, had an immense impact on how we approach safety at sea. The recent Costa Concordia accident has just made the focus on passenger ship safety even stronger.
Safety in transport is something that the European Commission takes very seriously, whether in the sky, on the roads or on the seas.
One transport-related death is one too many. And while EU safety standards in transport are very high overall, there is always room to do more.
There are always lessons to learn from such disasters. But we are not just waiting for the next accident to happen. It would be foolhardy merely to respond after the event: this is a process of continuous improvements, pro-active and preventative measures to raise maritime safety standards.
This is why I have invited you all here today. This conference is an integral part of the Commission's public consultation on our review of passenger ship safety legislation. This was opened in 2010, to make sure that we keep up with global developments in ship design, technology and operational procedures.
I am optimistic that - together - we can bring improvements to a shipping sector that has so much potential. So let us pool ideas and find the best way forward.
Ladies and gentlemen: let me briefly set out the Commission's approach, which has three main elements.
Firstly, industry must do its part.
I have talked with the European Cruise Council and warmly welcome their commitment to review operational safety procedures. Since then, the ECC has announced improved and immediate measures on safety drills.
I also understand that more commitments will now follow, including mandatory pre-route planning to prevent deviations from the selected route, more lifejackets available on board and stricter rules on access to the bridge.
With these voluntary measures, the industry is going beyond what is required.
I am particularly pleased to see that there will be four independent experts to monitor progress and implementation. This is very encouraging and welcome, especially given the possible re-launching of the Quality Shipping Campaign.
Secondly, the rules that we have today must be enforced.
While there are solid EU regulations in place for passenger ship safety, we are now examining - with the help and support of EMSA - how they are being implemented. They must also be correctly applied: EU Member States, as flag States and port States, have a duty to enforce them.
EMSA is already carrying out inspection visits in this regard, including how EU rules are applied for registering persons on board.
Depending on the outcome of these inspections, there may be a need for more legislation or improvements to the existing rules.
While we certainly do not intend to propose new rules for passenger ship safety simply as a reaction to the recent tragedy, we have to consider that today's cruise ships can carry up to 7,000 people and cost more than a billion euros to build. That's a difficult balancing act between commercial interest and safety, given the magnitude of responsibility for all involved.
It does raise some issues that deserve attention. You will see some of these included on today's conference agenda. They include issues like evacuation and bridge team procedures, safety drills, and the selection, training and assessment of officers and crew.
This leads me to the third element in the Commission's strategy, which is indeed legislation.
As I said earlier, our current review of passenger ship safety rules began in 2010, in close consultation with Member States. Two areas are being examined.
You will already be aware that we intend to present proposals by the end of 2012 to upgrade rules on domestic passenger ships.
The idea is to simplify and revise their scope, for larger sailing ships, historic and smaller ships, and ships made out of materials other than steel.
The other area concerns the stability of damaged roll-on roll-off passenger vessels, the type most commonly used in intra-EU maritime transport for passengers and vehicles. This is a vital issue, and a highly technical one where I would welcome your professional input.
We will consider updating EU passenger ship stablity rules for roll-on roll-off ferries by the end of the year, focusing particularly on improving stability after damage. At the same time we will provide our findings from recent studies to the International Maritime Organization, to enhance the existing rules internationally - rather than just on a regional basis.
This does not mean lowering our current EU safety standards, but rather making more of an alignment with international philosophy.
For me, as a politician, it is about establishing what constitutes an unacceptable risk. For the industry, I understand that it is also about finding a cost-effective way to ensure safety.
The ultimate aim must be that wherever a passenger boards a passenger ship in the world, safety should be at the highest possible level. Passengers should expect the same safety level standards whether they are crossing for example the Baltic Sea, or sailing on an island daytrip in Asian waters.
In this context of the stability of damaged vessels, cruise ships are also part of our policy review. Since the research here is still underway, it would be premature to say whether the EU needs to update the rules for this sector.
For this, the outcome of the Costa Concordia investigation conducted by the Italian authorities will also be needed, which the Commission is still awaiting.
But the lessons we have learned from ferries could also, perhaps, feed into our thinking - along with several other research projects now approaching maturity. Some of them are presented here today and will be useful in our discussions.
There are also some very interesting projects related to navigation, emergency management, evacuation and launching of lifeboats.
I recommend that you take a tour of the small exhibition that has been arranged, perhaps during the break when the Commission offers a walking lunch.
Ladies and gentlemen: before I conclude - and also to introduce the next speaker, let me underline the productive exchange of views and cooperation that the Commission has with the IMO and its newly elected Secretary-General, Koji Sekimizu.
I am therefore very pleased that the IMO's Assistant Secretary-General, Andrew Winbow, has been able to join today's discussions.
We organised this conference to share ideas for the best way to improve safety on passenger ships. Everyone's view is welcome, most importantly that of passengers - because the service does, after all, exist for them.
Today's gathering is also a key part of the public consultation on our policy review in this area. It will be a timely and essential contribution to this process.
Thank you all for coming and for your attention.