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  EU fears ’Russian Prestige’ in Baltic or Barents seas

    Thursday 18 March 2004

Pollution rules and equipment inadequate, writes Justin Stares in Brussels

RUSSIA’S lack of attention to oil spill prevention and response has become a key cause of concern to European Union authorities, a seminar in Brussels has heard. Pollution fighting equipment is inadequate and regulations governing oil tankers are outdated, participants told a gathering in the European Parliament. A growing edginess among Russia’s neighbours about the potential fallout from a Prestige-style tanker disaster in the Barents or Baltic seas has been made more acute by predictions of rocketing exports of Russian oil and oil products. "Russia is the most inadequate of all Baltic states," Finnish MEP Riita Myller told the seminar. "There is no equipment for an open sea accident. "There is an acute need for modern equipment and vessels capable of operating in Arctic conditions." European Maritime Safety Agency executive director Willem de Ruiter agreed the Baltic region was at risk. "They do not have heavy equipment for a big spill," he said, adding that "the risks from increased Russian exports are not restricted to areas where production originates." There was talk of increased co-operation between the EU and Russia to combat this risk, though Mr de Ruiter said this was the responsibility of the European Commission. Norwegian environment group Bellona and British MEP Diana Wallis organised the event, entitled ’Protecting the Barents and Baltic Seas’. Russia dominated presentations, with Bellona president Frederic Hauge calling for the EU to put pressure on Russia to fall in line with European regulations on the carriage of heavy oil in tankers. "We need an agreement with Russia," he said. Russia has not followed the EU ban on heavy oil carriage in single- hull tankers. According to Bellona figures, oil exports from the Murmansk region are due to triple from around 30,000 tonnes a day to 100,000 tonnes per day in 2015. If a new pipeline to Murmansk is constructed, these volumes could reach 300,000 tonnes a day, the foundation claimed. "The EU is in a predicament in that it is dependent upon Russian energy," said Matti Wuori, a prominent MEP within the Green party. "Russia is becoming our Middle East." Other seminar participants said progress had been made in the region in the field of ship safety. A ship reporting system is due to become operational this year, while a traffic separation system is already in place. Finland and Russia have together planned the construction of a new range of ice-breaking ship. The Baltic has not yet suffered an oil spill disaster, though statisticians have calculated that a spill of 10,000-tonnes or more is likely to occur once every 50 years. If tanker traffic increases to accommodate Russia’s growing oil exports, the probability of a Prestige-disaster also increases.

March 18 2004, Lloyds List