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Many of us in the shipping industry have experienced incidents, dramas or shenanigans over the years that are often hard to remember as time passes. The people involved and names of the ships can too easily slip from memory, but occasionally a navigation close call, a power blackout or an injury to one of our colleagues at sea can sear in our memories.
There are also those major maritime events that we have no involvement with ourselves, but that don’t easily leave us. For me it was the grounding of the Sea Empress at Milford Haven, Wales where over 72,000mt of crude oil was released into the environment. It occurred in the middle of my cadetship, which looking back was quite a formative time at the start of my career in the shipping industry.
The details of the massive spill, images of the foundered ship and the affected sea life, along with the name of the ship have remained with me to this day. We also remember spills due to their magnitude or consequences; for example the Torrey Canyon. 51 years ago, a super-tanker of its day, ran aground off the south west coast of England where 119,000mt of crude oil spilt into the environment. It now ranks as the seventh largest oil spill from a ship.
The following year as a direct result of the pollution- and how it was handled (or mishandled) by the authorities- the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation; ITOPF was established. For half a century the organisation has promoted the effective response to spills of oil, chemicals and other hazardous substances in the marine environment.
Over the last 50 years the total number of spills and quantity of oil spilt has drastically reduced across the globe; as is excellently demonstrated by ITOPF’s own graph in the linked publication. Over this period ITOPF’s role has adapted to the needs of the industry. A quick look at their statistics shows that about half of their onsite attendance is now for bunker fuel spills.
I was recently reminded of a bunker spill that may have gone under the radar for many, but demonstrates the type of work that is common for ITOPF today. A few years ago the bulk carrier Golden Trader and fishing vessel Vidar collided in the North Sea. While the quantity of bunkers spilt was relatively low at 205mt, the rough sea conditions meant that the oil spread as far as 150km and due to emulsification it increased to 550mt. The Danish authorities directed the first response, but ITOPF personnel attended on site shortly after. During the attendance they provided invaluable advice to the local and regional governments, clean up contractors and local residents for more than eight weeks.
The appointment of ITOPF as soon as the pollution became apparent was vital in this sense. This is aided by the fact that ITOPF’s services are available to all Club members, tanker and non-tanker, due to the automatic enrolment into ITOPF via each vessels P&I Club cover.