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THE European Maritime Safety Agency will start the first inspections of the port and ship inspection services of European Union member states in September.

EMSA executive director Willem de Ruiter said that the EU regulation laying down the procedures for carrying out the inspections was due to come into force this month.

Member states would normally be given six weeks prior notice that an inspection was due to be carried out, he said, but would be expected to accept inspections at shorter notice in exceptional circumstances.

«Since the security threat is not expected to disappear overnight, the exercise is expected to continue indefinitely,» he said.

He insisted that EU inspectors would not carry out inspections of ships and ports as such but would «inspect the inspectors».

«I don’t think we need a large army of inspectors because our role is to inspect the inspectors. It’s not so difficult to verify whether a national organisation or agency is doing its job properly.

Speaking at a conference in Nantes, France, on the first year of application of the International Ship and Port Facility Security code(ISPS), Mr. de Ruiter also detailed EMSA’s plans for adding to the oil response capacity of EU member states, saying that he could not elude the subject in an area which had been so seriously affected by the Erika and Prestige disasters.

He said that the agency planned to place one large vessel in each of four priority areas it had identified – the western approaches of the English Channel, the Atlantic coasts of Spain and Portugal, the northern Mediterranean and the Baltic Sea.

It would sign stand-by contracts with commercial operators, he said, and was planning to launch a tender procedure shortly with a view to signing contracts before the end of the year. Contracts for a second vessel in each of the four priority zones would be signed next year.

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