Oil Spills: Are We Ready?

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By Dr Moses Amweelo (Speech made in the National Assembly) ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  I appreciate and thank the Minister of Works, Transport and Communication for tabling the international convention on oil pollution preparedness in the National Assembly for approval in order to be better prepared for any eventualities regarding an oil spill in our waters, and which will help us to bring our national oil spill contingency plan at the required international standards. As the technology develops, new challenges emerge, hence there is a need for preparations. An oil spill disaster can be detrimental to several economic, cultural and social sectors of our beautiful country. It can affect our rich marine environment, natural amenities along our beaches, wild life, harbours and port operations as well as tourist industries. The most important pollutant resulting from shipping operations is oil. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) of the United States estimated in 1980 that as much as 3.54 million tons of oil entered the sea every year, some 1.5 million tons of which resulted from the transport of oil by sea; the remainder came from land-based activities and included industrial wastes, urban runoff and natural seepage. In the 1950’s ships of 30,000 tons deadweight were regarded as very large; today, tankers of 250,000 tons deadweight are commonplace and a number have been built of twice that tonnage.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  The best-known cause of oil pollution is that arising from tanker accidents.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Although on average this contributes approximately over a quarter of the total oil entering the sea in a year from maritime sources, the consequences of an accident can be disastrous for the immediate area, particularly if the ship involved is a large one and the accident occurs close to the coast.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  The wrecks of the Torrey Canyon (1967) and the AMOCO Cadiz (1978) are examples.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  The National Academy of Sciences estimates that about 390,000 tons of oil a year enters the sea as a result of such accidents.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Collisions and groundings account for roughly 80% of all major spills. The other causes of oil pollution include dry-docking (30,000 tons); bilge and fuel oil from all types of ships (30,000 tons); and non-tanker accidents (20,000 tons).ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Oil affects the maritime environment in a number of ways.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  It blankets the surface, interfering with the oxygen exchange between the sea and the atmosphere, its heavier constituents blanket the seabed, interfering with the growth of marine life, many of its constituent elements are toxic, and can enter the food chain; and it interferes with the recreational uses of beaches.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Furthermore, oil may enter seawater-distilling inlets and it may be deposited on tidal mudflats, again with detrimental results. As early as 1929 an international conference was held in Washington D.C. in an attempt to control the discharge of oil into the sea, but it did not lead to the adoption of a convention. The Second World War intervened and it was not until 1954 that a further serious attempt was made.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  In that year a conference hosted by the United Kingdom adopted the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the sea by oil, 1954 (generally known as OILPOL 54), which entered into force in 1958.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  In the convention a distinction was made between oil and oily mixtures from machinery spaces and from cargo tanks.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  At that stage, no attempt was made to minimize the discharge of oil into the sea, the convention merely laid down zones in which it was forbidden to discharge cargo oil into the sea. The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from ships, better known as MARPOL, was adopted on 2 November 1973 at the close of the three-week International Conference on Marine Pollution convened under the auspices of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  MARPOL is concerned with pollution caused by the day-to-day operations of ships.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  (Examples of this are the discharge of oily residues from sludge tanks or machinery space bilges, oil and chemical residues from cargo tanks and sewage, the loss overboard of cargoes, which are harmful to the marine environment, and the throwing overboard of garbage).ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  MARPOL 73/78 is also directed toward limiting marine pollution caused by damage to ships.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Preventing accidents and damage leading to marine pollution is first and foremost the task of those conventions, which contain provisions for the construction, safety equipment and fire protection of ships (SOLAS) for safe traffic behaviour (COLREG) and for the adequate training of personnel (STCW).ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  MALPOL 73/78 does, however, contain provisions for limiting the damage to the environment, should accidents occur.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  (Here one should think of reporting requirements when incidents occur or are likely to occur, carriage requirements for chemical tankers, the protective location of ballast tanks, the limitation of tank size, etc). Annex 1 generally prohibits the discharge of oil into the sea, and like its predecessor, OILPOL 54, it makes a distinction between discharges from machinery space and from cargo space. Some waste oils (e.g. lubricating oils) may be reconditioned, but others, such as the residue from fuel oil purifiers, cannot be recycled.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Fuel oil sludge can be destroyed on board if the ship has an incinerator.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  If not, it used to be customary to discharge such sludges into the sea.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Under Annex 1ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ this is no longer permitted and any sludge must be discharged to a reception facility in port.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  The discharge provisions applicable to machinery spaces are spelled out in regulations 9 and 10 of Annex 1. Recent oil spills in other parts of the world such as the Erika in France and Presteage in Italy are cases in point of how such spills can be destructive to any coastal state.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  Oil spills can be more destructive to a coastal state especially if that state is caught unprepared.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  A good example of such a case is the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, United States of America in 1989.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  The USA was mainly affected because they were not well prepared.ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚  As far as I can remember claims related to punitive damage alone amounted to five billion (U$5-b) dollars. Namibia faced a similar situation in 1996 when a bulk carrier “IRINE P” suffered structural damage and spilled about 72 tons in our waters. The government spent about more than one million Namibian Dollars and were only able to recover about N$750 000 from the owner of the vessel. Again the question of un-preparedness. The government has triedÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ by all means to have all necessary laws, regulations and policies in place. National emergences are coordinated at the highest administrative office in this country, the Office of the Prime Minister, and managed by a national emergency management committee. Having realized potential risks for oil spill in Namibia, the National Assembly has approved about five International Maritime Organization (IMO) conventions related to the prevention and combating of oil spills in the Namibian waters. These are: 1. The International Convention on Prevention of the Marine Pollution From Ships, MARPOL 73/78 1. International Convention on Intervention for Oil Pollution on the High Seas, 1969 1. International Convention on the Establishment of International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage (FUND), Protocol of 1992 1. International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage (CLC), Protocol of 1992 1. The International Convention on Search and Rescue, 1979 (SAR, 79) The National Assembly has now considered and approved Namibia’s Accession to the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation (OPRC) 1990, in order to strengthen the strict application of existing international instruments. Furthermore, we need as a country to conduct more training and exercises annually for the coming years, so that we can achieve our objectives as outlined in the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCP).