Joint Committee on Draft Civil Contingencies Bill Written Evidence

Memorandum from the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Limited (ITOPF)

  We should like to take the opportunity to comment on those parts of the draft Civil Contingencies Bill that deal with oil and chemical pollution.


  1.1  The International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Limited ("ITOPF") is a non-profit making organisation, funded by the world's shipowners. We devote considerable effort to a wide range of technical services aimed at protecting the marine environment and its users from the damaging effects of accidental spills of oil and other substances from ships. Our technical advisers have responded to over 500 spills in more than 85 countries since 1968. We have worked closely with involved parties in all the major marine pollution incidents in UK waters since that date, including the Eleni V, Rosebay, Braer and Sea Empress. We therefore have first-hand experience of the arrangements for spill response in UK waters and are interested in how the Bill will improve the situation when such events occur in the future.


  2.1  Whilst the technical aspects of dealing with a marine spill of oil or chemicals are clearly important, the effectiveness of the response to a major accident will ultimately depend upon the quality of the contingency plan, and of the organisation and control of the various aspects of the clean-up operation.

  2.2  As major marine spills are now rare, in most countries the organisational structure for responding to such events tends to follow administrative structures created for other purposes. This is particularly evident when it comes to shoreline clean-up, where the responsibility usually falls to a multitude of local and regional government authorities, who in turn have to interact with a number of central government authorities and agencies; port, harbour and terminal operators; representatives of the owners of the ship and cargo, and special interest groups. This is frequently a recipe for confusion in a major spill, leading to an uncertain and variable response (often repeating the mistakes of previous spills), unclear command and control, and a lack of co-ordination.

  2.3  Such co-ordination and management problems are not overcome by inviting all interested parties to serve on one or more committees during an incident so that they can participate in the decision-making process (whether or not they are technically qualified to do so). Whilst this may be democratic, it usually leads to large, unwieldy spill management teams, delayed decision making and, frequently, the adoption of inappropriate or conflicting response strategies. When the oil is on the water or on the shore, informed and decisive leadership is required.


  3.1  Given the above comments it will be no surprise that we welcome in principle the attention given in the Bill to contingency planning and the procedures to be enacted in the event of an incident.

  3.2  The International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation 1990 (OPRC '90), as enacted into English law by the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, places a requirement on authorities and operators in charge of sea ports and oil handling facilities to prepare contingency plans. The provisions of the draft Bill will serve to complement this by making such planning a statutory requirement for other parties, notably local authorities.

  3.3  In the event of a major pollution incident in UK waters, the UK National Contingency Plan for Marine Pollution provides for three main control centres to be established:

    —  Salvage Control Unit (SCU)—led by the Secretary of State's Representative for Marine Salvage and Intervention (SOSREP), who oversees and approves any salvage operation and can intervene if appropriate;

    —  Marine Response Centre (MRC)—led by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to co-ordinate all at-sea counter pollution and clean-up operations; and

    —  Shoreline Response Centre (SRC)—led by the Local Authority with technical support from the MCA to co-ordinate shoreline clean-up operations.

  These three clearly defined groups are assisted by an Environment Group which provides environmental advice.

  3.4  In addition to our involvement in pollution incidents, ITOPF has participated in numerous major oil pollution exercises led by the MCA and local and other authorities over many years. We have repeatedly criticised the lack of adequate communication and co-ordination between the various groups, particularly the at-sea and on-shore response teams.

  3.5  We therefore support in principle the proposal in the Bill (S.22) that the Secretary of State should appoint an emergency coordinator or a regional coordinator for the affected regions in the event of an incident and that they should comply with any direction from the Secretary of State and have regard to guidance issued by the same. To be effective, the emergency/regional coordinator should have authority to direct the various components of the response operation (as distinct from salvage). Thus, they should have similar powers to SOSREP and sit above the MRC, SRC and Environment Group in order to ensure strong overall direction, coordination and communication. In this way the new position would provide a genuine benefit to any response and not merely present an additional level of bureaucracy in the command structure.

  3.6  Reference is made to funding in paragraphs 32-36 of the Consultation Document, with the conclusion that the Government believes the current levels of funding are sufficient to support the basic responsibilities for local authorities that flow from the Bill (paragraph 35). We recognise that this is a long-standing issue with "political" sensitivity but our interest is purely practical. The preparation and maintenance of good contingency plans, as well as regular training, are potentially expensive items and some financial encouragement from central Government is warranted to ensure that they are undertaken at an appropriate level.

  3.7  Of greater concern to us is the lack of funding provision to support the response to a major marine pollution event. S.138 of Local Government Act 1972 covers the powers of principal councils with respect to emergencies or disasters and provides that a council may incur such expenditure as they consider necessary to respond. In our experience, local authorities have to divert funds from other activities in order to finance any significant response operation. In a major incident, such as the Sea Empress, the amounts can run into millions of pounds. These costs (so long as they are "reasonable") will eventually be reimbursed by the shipowner's insurer and, when appropriate, the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund 1992 ("1992 Fund"). However, in a complex case full reimbursement can take many years. During this time, the unexpected, and therefore unbudgeted, financial burden has to be borne by the local authorities. We do not think that this is reasonable and that it is therefore an issue that should be addressed by the Bill. We would emphasise, however, that we believe that any such emergency funding from central Government should only apply in the event of a major pollution incident (ie one that is of "national significance"). This is the approach adopted in a number of other countries. In France, for example, local authorities can obtain emergency funding from central Government for exceptional expenditure when Plan Polmar (the National Contingency Plan) is activated. The central Government then claims this back from the shipowner's insurer and 1992 Fund.

  3.8  Finally, on a point of detail: the definition of an emergency in the Bill includes a threat to the environment of England and Wales from fuel oils (ss. 1(3)(a)(ii) and 17(3)(a)(ii)). This definition of oil would appear to be unnecessarily restrictive as it would strictly only apply to those refined products that are used as a fuel in large power plants, be that for vessel propulsion or electricity generation. In reality, a threat to the environment may arise from a spill of any type of oil and from many sources. A broader definition to cover all eventualities would be provided by replacing "fuel oils" with "oil" or with "oil and its derivatives". The definition "oil" is used in other legislation eg S.153 Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

  I hope these comments are helpful.

Tim Wadsworth

31 July 2003

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