TIP 16 - Contingency Planning for Marine Oil Spills

An effective response to a spill of oil is dependent to a great extent on the preparedness of the organisations and individuals involved. This can be greatly enhanced by developing and maintaining a plan to address all likely contingencies. The process of producing a contingency plan provides the opportunity to identify roles and responsibilities and to define response strategies and operational procedures without the intense pressures that inevitably arise at the time of a spill.

Responding to a serious oil spill affecting a wide range of people and organisations demands that a variety of decisions are made very quickly. This can be achieved only if all participants are sufficiently prepared to appreciate the unfolding situation, can make crucial decisions and can mobilise appropriate resources without hesitation and with minimal delay. A fully developed contingency plan will assist in achieving this goal. A plan is not merely a written document but comprises all the practical requirements necessary for an immediate and effective response should a spill occur.

Functions necessary for a response should be identified together with the organisations or departments from which suitable personnel will be provided. Response techniques also have to be considered and the availability of equipment to implement the strategies confirmed. Operational aspects have to be balanced against concerns for the effects on the environment, fisheries, industry and recreational activities as well as considerations of public health and safety. Inevitably there will be conflicting interests and in many countries the media will be quick to expose any indecision, weakness or disagreement.

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