Neil Bellefontaine, Patrick Donner, Larry Hildebrand, and Tafsir Johansson
It is axiomatic that maritime transportation is essential for international trade. As the global economy and commerce continue to grow, significant pressure falls on maritime transportation. The types of goods conveyed by maritime transportation are innumerable. Oil is one of the transported commodities that rank high among import–export items. Without oil, the world’s energy supply is predicted to slowly run dry and in that instance, the ever-expanding global economy might lose its raison d’être. Marked by its versatile utility, oil supply has been in high demand in the international market for a considerable period of time. Occasionally, oil transportation via tankers does not always go as expected. Even though accidental discharges from incidents such as the Torrey Canyon, Amoco Cadiz, and the Exxon Valdez are considered to be less when compared to other types of vessel-source pollution, those incidents have nevertheless, demonstrated the need for a comprehensive national contingency plan to combat the deleterious effects of oil pollution at sea. Hence, they have been the reason behind the outcry of affected coastal communities and increased public attention to the threat of oil spills.
Although studies show that oil tanker incidents have been declining significantly, accidental spills as a part of the broader “oil spill” regime have been a contentious issue for decades and therefore, the “cause and effect” cannot be overlooked by Coastal States. While operational spills can be regulated through stringent laws and regulations, an accidental spill due to its unpredictable nature cannot be fully regulated by stringent policies. Again, compared to operational spills, the quantity of oil spilled from a single accident can be more than a number of operational spills combined and far more devastating. Researchers are, therefore, leaving no stones unturned to help the shipping industry lower the number and volume of accidental oil spills. While maritime engineers, scientists, and researchers are focusing on technical defects and human errors, governments of Coastal States are trying to develop ways to protect the marine environment through immediate response. More recently, countries within North America are studying an emerging concept related to oil spill immediate response. This modern concept entitled “oil spill intervention” is a combination of first response prior to a spill and rapid response in the immediate aftermath of a spill. In other words, governments are looking at advanced ways of dealing with oil spills, which go beyond the concept of ordinary “oil spill response.” Since the semi-enclosed Mediterranean Sea, bordered by 23 states, consists entirely or primarily of Territorial Seas and Exclusive Economic Zones, an accidental oil pollution incident in any part of the Mediterranean Sea is likely to effect a significant number of States whether they are adjacent, opposite, or located at a far distance. The marine ecology of the semi-enclosed Mediterranean Sea is known to science as unique and there is a limit to how much oil contaminants these sensitive sea areas can absorb. Therefore, the Mediterranean Sea areas are in need of better governmental control and advanced rapid response plans. This is where the national laws of the Mediterranean States and regional cooperation need further scrutiny to confirm whether they contain the required elements of “oil spill intervention.” Furthermore, Mediterranean national measures aimed at preventing, limiting, or responding to oil pollution needs to be cross-examined against the backdrop of status quo international law, which governs immediate response and intervention.
Although there has not been any major maritime oil spill incident within the Mediterranean region, accidents are considered as inevitable occurrences and the risk of one happening in the near future cannot be ruled out. Past incidents have taught us that an oil tanker accident is a force to be reckoned with. So, time not only runs against first responders who jump into immediate action in the aftermath of a maritime incident, but it also runs against the concerned governments of the Mediterranean Sea region. They need to review their current action plans and look into a functional and effective intervention plan before any future occurrence impacts the quality of the marine environment. This review is needed mainly because maritime traffic in the Mediterranean is increasing and the shipping industry will continue to take advantage of the Mediterranean transportation corridor.
The Role of the International Maritime Organization in the Prevention of Illegal Oil Pollution from Ships: North Sea Special Status Area
Neil Bellefontaine and Tafsir Johansson
Principles and standards corresponding to the prevention and control of vessel-source marine pollution are one of the most amply regulated areas of public international law. Vessel-source pollution, or in more restricted terms illegal oil pollution from ships, is not a new phenomenon. Although there seems to exist far-reaching regulations governing compensation for natural resource injury con- sequential to an oil spill, the European Union (EU) has apparently advanced a rather controversial position on this subject. International Maritime Organization (IMO) acknowledges the rights of victims of illegal oil pollution and has marked out specific maritime zones of the world that are in need of special attention. The North Sea, as such, falls within the territory of respective states of the EU. Major maritime incidents including illegal discharges of oil by Flag States in the pristine waters of the North Sea have led EU to believe that injury to natural resources per se and their economic valuation as laid down by IMO is more contentious then the current reality. Hence, the Special Status Areas (SSA) of the North Sea are under the disarray influence of legal contradiction. The assessment of injury to natural resources embraces complex questions surrounding both the assessment of injury to natural resources and then the award of appropriate compensatory damages. To what length can IMO assess this damage and prescribe a successful indemnification through the tools of civil liability and compensation regime for a region that has always adopted unilateral measures has left a question mark on the role of IMO. This endeavors to discuss the role of IMO in terms of the North Sea SSA and seeks to examine both the civil liability and criminal liability regimes for injury to natural resources consequential to an illegal oil discharge under both international law and the EU regional law. In essence, the article investigates the adequacy of the international system in compensating for natural resource injury and compares this to the corresponding, more compensatory, EU Directive approach.
Patrick Donner and Tafsir Johansson
Oil pollution in the United Kingdom (UK) waters of the North Sea primarily emanates from shipping activities and offshore oil production. Increased commercialisation of the shipping industry fills up the quota of oil pollution that is not resulting from oil exploration by offshore installations. The North Sea is a relatively small yet intensively used area, and it contains some of the most active and engaged shipping channels in the world. The result of such active engagement has left devastating consequences in the English Channel, which have sporadically occurred in the form of maritime casualties. This chapter is an effort to understand UK legislation, which has pragmatic approaches to addressing immediate responses as regards to oil pollution applicable to the areas adjacent to the North Sea. “Intervention” is a term often used when it comes to instantaneous action to limit or mitigate oil pollution which may have profound effects on the waters of the world. The need to develop close international cooperation is important and the existing legal regime is in great need of revision. As such and from a more private law approach, arrangements for monitoring and remedial action in the wake of an oil spill are addressed. The UK is just one of several states bordering the North Sea trying to make a difference in addressing oil spill and oil pollution through strict liability regimes. This delineates the disposition of the UK to address a complex problem of oil pollution in the North Sea, which is sensitive in nature. The degree of success is in further need of analysis.
Lawrence Hildebrand, Neil Bellefontaine, and Tafsir Johansson
Maritime transportation has diametric personalities. The advancement in global maritime transportation of oil products has resulted in commercial advantages. This advancement has simultaneously led to environmental disadvantages, sporadically leaving the marine environment in a detrimental position. “Commercial advantages” and “environmental disadvantages” are apparently two central issues that emanate from maritime transportation. Although the disadvantages cannot concretely outweigh the advantages, the “pollution” aspect has coastal states, environmentalists, marine biologists, and international organizations worrying whether economic gain is worth destroying the pristine environment. However, some environmentalists are optimistic and state that the marine environment has a form of resistance-capacity and time may heal the human-initiated damage leading to the point where nature will reinstate itself to its original status. However, what has changed today is that with the advancement in global maritime transportation, the impacts on the marine environment are no longer small, localized, and reversible. Incidents both accidental and operational in nature have raised serious environmental concerns. The Mediterranean Sea is no exception to this concern.
Data reveals that maritime activities in the Mediterranean have increased since the late 1900s and this “increase” will reach a higher plateau by 2018. While no major accidents have been recorded so far, the ubiquity, abundance, and broadness of detected operational spills in the Mediterranean have caught the attention of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Hence, the Mediterranean Sea is distinguished as a “special area” and the need to control oil transportation has become a dire need in order to save the region from anthropogenic impacts. Similar to many anthropogenic impacts on natural systems, oil pollution is one that, despite widespread recognition of the problem, is still growing and even if stopped immediately will persist in the marine environment for years to come. Scientists have proven that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a high molecular weight component (compound) of crude oil, are extremely difficult to clean due to its complex structure. The main problem associated with this component is that they cannot be absolutely degraded by bioremediation efforts. Since the rise in the number of maritime transportation is inevitable, to eradicate problems associated with illegal oil discharge, the Mediterranean Sea area has been designated as a “special area.” The question is whether the initiatives of the IMO to establish a “zero discharge policy” are sufficient to control oil pollution in the Mediterranean Sea? This chapter will endeavor to answer that question.
MER Group work published as book chapters.
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