Lebanon: Government takes step toward maritime safety [Daily Star]
March 31, 2011 by Simona Sikimic

BEIRUT: Lebanon has taken an important first step to bring its shipping fleet in line with international standards on pollution and safety, two maritime experts have told The Daily Star.

Jonathan Pace and Albert Bergonzo, project officers at Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Center for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC) and part of the European Union-funded SafeMed project, are in Beirut at the request of the Lebanese government.

Flanked by a team of Mediterranean maritime experts, the pair is conducting a weeklong training session, which ends Thursday and is designed to prepare Lebanon for an upcoming audit of its fleet.
The audit, testing safety and environmental standards of ships flying the Lebanese flag, will become mandatory for all countries belonging to the U.N.-backed International Maritime Organization in 2015.
“It is a very good sign that the Lebanese authorities have requested this workshop,” said Bergonzo. “It proves that they are aware that the audit is coming and they are trying to prepare for it.”

However, Lebanon presently does “not fare very well” in comparison to other Mediterranean countries, Bergonzo explained. Its ships operate on heavier fuels which are worse for the environment, while inadequate monitoring allows dumping of oils and other waste into the sea.

“For small country, like Lebanon, it is very obvious that the maritime sector is not a very big priority in contrast to other sectors,” added Pace.

Failure to comply with standards will lead to a greater number of ships being detained for inspections at foreign ports and could result in the banning of state-registered ships from EU ports. This will hit both trade and taxes, with more merchants avoiding registering their ships in Lebanon, the pair said.
While there have been large jumps in the overall standards across the Mediterranean in recent decades, much remains to be done.

The top priorities for Lebanon should be building up the capacities of the maritime administration, strengthening cooperation between government ministries and agencies, and speeding up the adoption of the marine pollution contingency plan, explained Pace.

Lebanon is in the “advanced stages” of its marine contingency plan but this still leaves the country exposed to crises, similar to the 2006 Israeli bombing of the Jiyyeh power plant.

Although not a shipping disaster, the discharge of oil into the sea had similar consequences. REMPEC played a crucial role in the cleanup and helped coordinate the regional response.

“Cooperation on the regional level is crucial,” said Pace. “No single state can manage this alone. Proof of this is the Gulf of Mexico when the U.S. had to call for international assistance.”

Operating since 2006, EuroMed is now in its second phase, running until December. The project has provided a rare platform for Israeli and Arab maritime authorities to work together on regional issues, although EuroMed does not directly involve itself with issues concerning border demarcation.

Source: Daily Star