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In wake of oil tanker sinking, top UN environment official calls for strict liability system

In wake of oil tanker sinking, top UN environment official calls for strict liability system

The head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today called for a "stringent and demanding" liability system to encourage ship owners and masters to comply with higher standards and regulations in response to the break-up and sinking last week of an oil tanker off the coast of Spain.

Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said the tragic loss of the Prestige on 19 November has again "brought into sharp focus the environmental and economic issues surrounding the world's primary energy source, namely oil."

The incident "reminds us that it is the people living on the coasts of major tanker and shipping routes and relying on the natural environment for their livelihoods who pay the price when such accidents occur," he said.

The latest tanker disaster must also mark a new and renewed effort to minimize the risks and to "properly price the environment within the costs of oil transportation," Mr. Toepfer said, noting that too many ships carrying potentially hazardous cargoes have operated with poorly trained crews and that some of the vessels are of an age and specification that also "brings cause for concern."

"It is clear to me that the price of petrol and diesel at the filling station pump is not reflecting the true environmental costs of oil," he said.

The UNEP chief welcomed efforts by the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) to bring in "double-hull" tankers to replace the single-hull ones, which are more vulnerable in the event of a collision or accident, and called for a review of the timetable for phasing-in the stronger vessels.

Mr. Toepfer also noted that UNEP has developed a network of regional seas agreements, under which neighbouring countries have agreed to jointly protect their common marine and coastal environments, and said that he will be asking the agency's experts to review the measures to see where they could be strengthened.