The Rio Tagus Stuck in Sète

25 Sep 2017

French authorities are delaying a final decision concerning the Rio Tagus. At this time, they are contemplating exporting the old freighter under the regulations on transboundary movements of waste, but they do not respond to two essential questions.

Can the Rio Tagus be exempt from the application of European regulations on ship dismantling? Can the Rio Tagus be towed away in compliance with requirements on maritime safety and environmental protection?

For Robin des Bois, the answer to both questions is no.

Upon her arrival in Sète in 2010, the Rio Tagus was flying the flag of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. She was abandoned by her Panama-based owner, who stopped paying the seamen’s salaries, port charges, and fees to the maritime register. The Equasis database confirms that, as of November 1, 2011, the vessel no longer has a flag. At this date, the Rio Tagus is stateless and de facto without an owner.

To be able to get rid of the squatter in compliance with the legal framework, the port of Sète initiated the judicial procedure of property forfeiture. The vessel passed officially to the control of French authorities. The port of Sète, also known as Etablissement Public Régional Port Sud de France (Public Regional Utility Port for the South of France), the new owner of the Rio Tagus, is authorized to sell the vessel in judicial auctions. The initial aim is to sell her to a ship owner who would resume commercial operations, but the sale attempts in October 2013 (for 225,000 €), May 2015, and September 2015 (for 100,000 €) are unsuccessful.

In 2016, it became clear that the only future for the Rio Tagus is demolition; she is auctioned in October to a Spanish scrap dealer for 11,000 €. The ex-vessel does not have a flag; the applicable law thus corresponds to that of the owner’s country. In any case, the country is a member of the European Union. Both the French seller and the Spanish buyer must conform to the European regulations and have the wreck dismantled by an authorized facility.

The Varadero scrap metal plant in Vinaros is not listed by the European Commission as an  approved facility. The approved yard nearest to Sète is located in Aveiro, Portugal, more than 2000 km away. It would be unreasonable in terms of maritime safety and environmental protection to let a ship be towed away whereas she had arrived with a water ingress and an engine failure and was considered unseaworthy by French maritime safety inspectors in October 2010. The Rio Tagus did not move for 7 years, she remained unmaintained and her hull continued to deteriorate. In the summer of 2016, an emergency pumping of water that had accumulated in the bottom was carried out. The Rio Tagus started to list. Towage of the Rio Tagus toward Vinaros, south of Barcelona, would be an unacceptable risk in terms of maritime safety and preservation of the Mediterranean Sea.

Under these circumstances, reason and law order to opt for the emergency solution authorized by European regulations, which is to say, demolition on the spot, in Sète, in a temporary ICPE (Facilities classed for the protection of environment).

Equasis database, excerpt

June 2017 © Anthony Levrot



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