As of January 28, 2011, the signatories to the 2002 Protocol to the Athens Convention were Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Spain, and the United Kingdom (all subject to ratification/acceptance). (Contracting States: Albania, Latvia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Syrian Arab Republic).
EC Vice-President Siim Kallas, European Commissioner for Transport has asked that the currently ongoing review of EU passenger ship safety legislation take fully into account “any lessons to be learnt from the Costa Concordia tragedy.” Vice President Siim Kallas called upon Member States to ratify without delay the latest update (2002 Protocol) of the International Convention for liability of carriers by sea and the compensation of passengers in case of accidents (Athens Convention), in order to advance its entry into force. He recalled that specific EU legislation based on this Convention will come into force at the end of 2012.
The Protocol would, if ratified by at least 10 States, impose a compulsory insurance requirement on passenger ship operators and raise liability limits to 250,000 Special Drawing Rights about $325,000. The amendments to the Convention are contained in a Protocol to the Athens Convention. IMO Secretary General William A. O’Neil said that the 2002 Protocol, when it comes into force, would provide a much-needed update to the 1974 Convention and he urged Governments to ratify the Protocol as soon as possible. He said, “For some time now it has been recognized that the limits of liability in the 1974 Convention are no longer adequate to meet the needs of the international community, which the liability of the carrier for the death of or personal injury to a passenger shall in no case exceed 700,000 francs per carriage (about $70,000 USD).
The Protocol introduces compulsory insurance for passenger personal injury claims and other mechanisms to assist passengers in obtaining compensation, the level of which is increased significantly. An EU Regulation, which incorporates the Protocol, has determined that EU Member States will ratify and apply the Protocol in the EC by January 2013 at the latest. The Protocol has been ratified already by a few countries both within and outside the EU and, in the interests of consumer protection, it is clearly desirable that it achieves global acceptance as soon as practicable.
The UK strongly supports the entry into force of the 2002 protocol because it will significantly enhance the international regime of liability that exists for damage suffered as a result of the death of, or personal injury to, a passenger and the loss of or damage to luggage, by sea—established by the 1974 Athens convention. The 2002 protocol will require shipowners to maintain compulsory insurance up to approximately £250,000 per passenger per voyage to cover liability in respect of the death of and personal injury to passengers on board ships and significantly raise the limits of liability from approximately £46,000 to £400,000 per passenger on each distinct occasion. It will also introduce other mechanisms to assist passengers in obtaining compensation, based on well-accepted principles applied in existing liability and compensation regimes dealing with environmental pollution. These include replacing the fault-based liability system with a strict liability system for shipping-related incidents and introducing the right of direct action against the insurer.
The Union has already adopted EU Regulation 392/2009 on the liability of carriers of passengers by sea which incorporates the 2002 protocol into EU law and ensures the uniform application of the 2002 protocol in the EU from 31 December 2012. It is, however, important that the UK and other EU member states ratify, or accede to, the 2002 protocol to ensure that both instruments apply simultaneously within the EU as soon as possible. Such an approach will greatly simplify the application of Athens regime in the shipping industry.
While certainly too late for the Concorida victims, will their grave losses become the beacon which guides member states to recognize the inadequacies of the Athens Convention and pave the way to increased limitations?