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
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. COMMENTS ON
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
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.
31 July 2003