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Disasters on the scale of the TORREY CANYON, the AMOCO CADIZ, and the EXXON VALDEZ are rare. However, the resulting devastation of the environment and marine life has had such a far‑reaching effect on international opinion that most countries will now deal severely with vessels which discharge even small quantities of oil in their territorial waters. Vessels which pollute the environment will be usually penalised whether or not the Master or the crew were in any way to blame. In some jurisdictions, however, if it can be established that the pollution was not caused by the fault of the vessel and that all reasonable precautions were taken to minimise or prevent the pollution, fines or other penalties may be be reduced or waived. The defences which may be available are as follows:

Act of God;

Act of war;

Act of a government in whose jurisdiction the oil spill occurred;

Act or omission of a third party.

This chapter examines the following:‑

Sources of oil spills;

Precautions to minimise the risk of oil spills;

Procedures to be followed in the event of an oil spill;

Evidence required from the vessel;

International regulations.

In the appendix to this chapter, the international regulations dealing with oil pollution are discussed and a case history is provided.

Sources of Oil Spills

There are three main sources of pollution:

Collision, fire, explosion, or grounding which result in the release of oil from the ship's bunkers andor from the cargo tanks;

Intentional discharge of oil or oily waste from the pumping of bilges, or deballasting of cargo tanks, or tank washings;

Accidental spills while transferring fuel or cargo from ship to ship, or from ship to shore, and accidental spillage resulting from the incorrect operation of valves on shipboard or at oil terminals.

However, minor incidents of oil pollution also may occur when small quantities of bunkers are blown up air pipes or rain water washes small quantities of hydraulic oil overside.

Precautions to minimise the Risk Of Oil Spills

Procedures in relation to oil transfers should form part of every vessel's standing instructions. These should include the name of an officer in charge of transfer operations, and an outline of pipeline and valve operations. The standing instructions should also emphasise the necessity of cementing scupper plugs and checking moorings, and contain an outline of clean up operations.

Owners, together with the Master, should ensure that a system of safe practices is instituted on board the vessel to minimise the risk of oil spills. Such a system should include the following practices:

Oil spill drills of the same type as boat drills, fire drills, and emergency tank drills;

Careful disposal of ballast water which has been contaminated with oil whether the vessel is in the middle of the ocean or within port limits;

Frequent inspections of equipment used in cargo or bunkering operations, the times and results of which are noted in the log ‑

Oil spills often have occurred as a result of leaking ship side valves and manifold connections, tank overflows, and hose fractures caused by excess pressurisation or closure of valves against the oil flow;

A regular watch system for checking rates and ullages during loading and discharging operations

Times and observations should be recorded in the log;

Demarcation of duties of parties involved in loading and discharging operations including ship's officers, crew, and shore staff;

A system of record keeping of all cargo, bunkering, and tank cleaning operations;

An agreed rate of loading while loading cargo or bunkering ‑

The shore or barge should be informed of any fluctuations;

Careful transfer of oil on board during the voyage ‑

This type of transfer should be treated the same as a loading or bunkering operation;

Careful transfer of bunkers whilst in port in order to counteract any list caused by cargo;

Retaining records of oil presently on board the vessel

These records should be kept on the bridge along with the fire envelope and should include details

of the wax content, specific gravity, viscosity, distillation characteristics in order to assist in

containment or dispersal in the event of a spill;

Compliance with local bunkering or loading procedures ‑

The Master also should ensure that the procedures outlined in the section on procedure on commencement of bunkering are followed.

Procedures in the Event of an Oil Spill

In the event of an oil spill, however minor, the Master should immediately consult the local P&I Club representative. The representative will advise on the steps which should be taken to inform the local authorities and will make arrangements for legal representation and attendance of surveyors if necessary. The representative will also assist the Master in dealing with the local authorities.

It is imperative that the Master and crew co‑operate fully with the authorities and SHOW CONCERN whatever the extent of spillage. If the authorities request permission to board the vessel, the Master should attempt to obtain the advice of a legal representative before granting permission. If this is not possible, and the authorities insist on boarding the vessel, the Master should allow them access to the

vessel. However, he should make a note of their names, the governmental department which they represent, and a note of their activities while on board.

The Master also should ensure that steps are taken to clean up the the spill and prevent further spillage. In wet climates a sudden rain squall after a spill will spread oil over a much greater area. Therefore, immediate action is essential. Steps to prevent further pollution may include cleaning up the oil on deck and transfer of oil into tanks or spaces not suitable for oil. The latter will only be necessary in the event of large spills. In exceptional circumstances, it may be necessary to place the vessel in a graving dock or other closed areas to prevent large scale pollution. The P&I Club representative will be able to assist the Master on deciding what action is suitable and necessary.

In order to assist personnel involved in the cleaning operations (who may possibly overestimate the extent of the spill), the Master should ensure that figures are obtained from shore or barge of the amount of oil remaining in the tank or barge and should also take into account the amount of oil remaining in the pipelines.

Finally, the Master should ensure that before any dispersants or detergents are used, local authorisation is obtained as indiscriminate use of such materials may be harmful to the environment.

Eviderice required from the Vessel

In order to defend claims of oil pollution and to prevent future spills, owners and their insurers will require a detailed account of how the spill occurred, the steps taken to prevent the spill, and the efforts made to minimise damage. Such an account should be supported by the items of evidence listed below, and the Master should ensure that such information and documents are retained and available. This information includes the following:

Log books in which the following information should be recorded ‑

a. use of such equipment as scupper plugs and drip trays,

b. the carrying out of oil spill drills,

c. the procedures followed during transfer of oil within the vessel,

d. evidence of previous oil pollution in berth or port area;

2. Engine room logs in which the following information should be recorded ‑

a. bunkering procedures,

b. the member of the crew in charge of bunkering operations,

c. methods of effecting emergency stops,

d. times and results of inspections of equipment used in cargo and bunkering operations, and

e. rates and ullages during loading and discharging operations;

3. A copy of the bunkerer's instruction or delivery note containing an acceptable loading rate;

4. Records of stocks of cleaning materials such as sprayers and absorbent material;

5. Samples of any oil which has been discharged from the vessel;

6. Video films of the extent of the spill (if possible);

7. A record of the quantity of pollutant;

8. If the pollution was caused by broken equipment on board the vessel, the broken parts should

be preserved;

9. Accounts of the events from all the members of the crew involved in the incident;

10. Oil record book;

11. Cargo loading/discharging plan;

12. Owners/charterers instructions;

Tank and pipeline diagrams;

Sounding pipe and ullage plug diagrams;

Vessel's contingency plan;

All relevant telexes, cables and other correspondence.

In addition to the information listed above, the Master should ensure that a record is made of the following information:

The operations being carried out at the time of the spill and the grades of oil


The type of oil which went over the side; A

The quantity of pollutant on deck, and the quantity which went overboard;

Actions taken to report the spill;

5. Actions taken to commence cleaning operations;

6. The state of the tide at the time of the spill;

The extent of the pollution, the extent of the area which the spill covered and whether it affected other vessels or properties;

The weather conditions at the time of the spill;

The identity of any vessels in the vicinity when the oil spill occurred;

The date, time when, and place where the spill occurred;

Details of the action taken on board to contain and clean up the pollutant;

Details of the action taken on shore to contain and clean up the pollutant;

The type and industrial name of the oil dispersant or any other chemical used.

International Regulations

All vessels except oil tankers of less than 150GRT and vessels of less than 40OGRT must comply with The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (the 'Convention') and the Protocol known as MARPOL 73/78 made pursuant to the Convention, when trading in countries which are parties to the Convention. In outline, the Convention lays down requirements relating to:

The discharge of oil or oily water mixture in parts per million of oil with reference

to the distance travelled during discharge;

Segregated ballast systems in oil tankers ‑ IGS and COW;

Adequate reception facilities in ports for oil residues from ships;

- The keeping of proper records with regard to oil transfers and tank cleaning; et

- Mandatory reporting requirements.

It is recommended that all ships' libraries obtain the following publications which contain further details of the above regulations and other pertinent legislation:

1. Manual on the Avoidance of Pollution of the Sea by Oil (issued by Her Majesty's Stationery

Office); and

2. The Intemational Maritime Organisation Manual on Oil Pollution ‑ Section 1 ‑ Prevention

(published by the International Maritime Organisation).


Case History

The subject vessel was a bulk carder of 122,000 MT DWT with LOA 272, a beam of 39m, and draft of 10.06m. She loaded a part cargo of grain at the port of Santos, Brazil. During pilotage from the berth to sea, the vessel passed a naval vessel which was proceeding towards the port. After dropping the pilot, the vessel proceeded to Paranagua for completion of loading. On arrival at Paranagua, the vessel anchored to await her berth. The Master was informed by the local authorities that the vessel was charged with causing oil pollution by pumping oil overboard when leaving Santos harbour.

An onboard investigation indicated that no discharge of any kind had been made by the vessel and that the cause of the alleged pollution did not result from any fault on the part of the vessel. Owners, therefore, decided to contest the charge, and the port captain at Santos decreed that a bond of $54,000 must be deposited with the local court pending a full investigation of the matter.

The evidence demonstrated that on departure from Santos, the vessel had a draft of 33FT even keel and was navigating in a channel of 42FT. When the naval vessel had passed her, the vessel had just dropped the pilot, and her engines were put to half and then full ahead as the vessel was full away on passage. This increase in propeller revolutions caused mud and silt to be churned up in her wake which gave the mistaken impression to the captain of the naval vessel that oil was being discharged. Although the case has been in the Brazilian courts for a number of years, owners are now hopeful for a favourable result.

- The evidence used in support of owners' case was as follows:

- Detailed statement from the Master;

- Detailed statement from the chief engineer;

- Deck and engine log sheets for relevant period;

- Vessel's certificates;

- Report of inspection of anti‑pollution equipment;

- Copy of manual for oil/water separator;

- Report of inspection by port captaincy.

The P&I representative attending the vessel recommended that as he was impressed with the maintenance and running of the vessel, an inspection by the local port captaincy would be helpful. The port captaincy's report was used as evidence in support of owners' case.

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