introduction to oil spill

INTRODUCTION

International
Convention for Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil (OILPOL) was a landmark
convention which restricted the release of oil waste into the sea within an area
of 50 nautical-mile from the coastal zone. The prohibition predominately
targeted oil tankers, whilst non-tanker commercial vessels were largely
unaffected. In truth, the restriction on tankers was limited. When operating outside
of the coastal zones, within the majority of the world’s oceans, tanker crews
were generally free to discharge oily waste.[1]

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In
addition to being limited in scope[2],
OILPOL lacked sufficient enforcement controls for coastal and port states. Responsibility
was passed to a vessel’s flag state once it had been informed of an alleged
violation. The flag state was to investigate the matter, and if it determined
there was sufficient evidence to initiate proceedings it could elect to do so.[3]
Due to the limited ability of coastal and port states to monitor oily
discharge, and a general reluctance by flag states to prosecute alleged
offending vessels, OILPOL was not as effective in dealing with oil pollution as
had been the intention of the UK as the leading party to the London Conference.[4]
The events surrounding the Torrey Canyon, which in on March 1967 ran aground
near the Isles of Scilly and released its cargo of 120,000 tons of crude oil,
probably had the largest impact on changing marine pollution regulations. Being
the largest oil spill ever recorded up to that time,[5] it
drew attention to the fact that vessel-source oil pollution was a serious
problem that needed to be addressed. Although accidental pollution, such as the
Torrey Canyon, was often more visible to the public, it was actually
operational pollution that resulted in a much more consistent and significant
source of oily discharge.[6]

[1] Tan (n 11).

[2] The lack of significant
prohibition regulating oil discharges was due to the active dispute among
nations at the 1954 conference as to whether there were harmful impacts on the
marine environment from oil discharges (Mitchell 1994: 84).

[3] International Convention for the
Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil, 1954.

[4] 21 M’Gonigle and Zacher (n 16)
89.

[5] Tan (n 11) 120.

[6] International Maritime
Organization, ‘Brief History of IMO’, http://www.imo.org/en/About/HistoryOfIMO/Pages/Default.aspx.

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