IMO Charts Pollution Successes


A new exhibition at the headquarters of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is charting the collaborative work that has been undertaken in its role as the United Nations agency responsible for the safety and security of international shipping and the prevention of pollution from ships.

The exhibition, ‘50 years of Government and industry working together to address the risk of oil pollution from ships’, is marking the sustained reduction in major oil spills made since the grounding of the tanker Torrey Canyon in 1967 — one of the world’s most serious oil spills.

A timeline from pre-1967 to the present day covers the improved safety of navigation, ship construction, training and risk reduction.

One of its areas of focus is preparedness and response – continuing to evolve as both awareness and technology have advanced and practical experience has led to a better response to spills when they occur.

Another is liability and compensation regimes, which have been developed to ensure that a robust system of compensation and liability for ship-source oil spills is now in place.

This is backed by appropriate funding mechanisms to finance an immediate and efficient response and compensate those affected.



However, there are still hazards as the need for oil remains strong and shipping is the most effective means of meeting that demand.

But collaboration between the IMO and governments has meant that tankers operating today are designed with double hulls, duplicate controls, segregated ballast tanks, inert gas systems, oily-water separators and crude oil tank washing equipment. This was not present fifty years ago.

These innovations, together with improvements in aids to navigation and many other aspects of ship design, construction and technology, have all led to much higher standards in tanker design and operation.

At the same time, proactive industry initiatives and IMO-led guidelines and conventions — governing safety, ship operations, vetting and reporting, ship management, crew training and certification — have all contributed to a safer, cleaner global oil shipping industry.

Speaking at the launch of the exhibition, IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim highlighted the important measures taken by IMO in response to the Torrey Canyon incident in March 1967, off the coast of the United Kingdom.

Within two months, in May 1967, IMO had convened an extraordinary meeting which proposed a number of changes in ship design and operation. This led directly to the development of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution form Ships (MARPOL), which is still to this day is what the IMO believes is the most important measure to address prevention of pollution by ships. 

The incident also led to the establishment of IMO’s Legal Committee, which subsequently developed a comprehensive framework for compensating victims of pollution incidents and established the International oil Pollution Compensation Funds (IOPC Funds).

Lim said: “As a result, tanker shipping today is safer and cleaner than ever before and there is also a robust mechanism in place to respond effectively to oil spills and deal with their financial consequences.”

José Maura, Director of the IOPC Funds, emphasised the successful and unique liability and compensation regime set up by IMO, in which ship and cargo interests jointly share the financing of compensation for oil pollution damage from tankers.

Maura said: “The transport of oil by sea remains essential for our daily lives and the risk that that carriage of oil brings is inevitable. This exhibition showcases both the ways in which we have fought to reduce the number of spills but also the ways in which we are prepared to deal with them when they do occur.”

Statistics compiled by the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation show a 90% reduction in the number of major oil spills and a hundred-fold reduction in the volume of oil spilt since the 1970s.

In 2016, the total volume of crude oil transported by ship was 1,770 million metric tons and 99.99% of this arrived safely.

Karen Purnell, Managing Director, ITOPF, said: “Now, the volume of oil lost in accidents is a tiny fraction of the volume that is delivered safely to its destination each year. The goal for everyone must surely be no spills at all, but accidents by their very nature are unpredictable. This exhibition also highlights how government and industry work to anticipate the needs of the future and how they are proactive in developing new initiatives to continually improve safety and ensure an environmentally-responsible approach to meeting the demands of society in the future.”

The exhibition will run at IMO Headquarters in London, United Kingdom, until July 7 2017.  

Image credit: IMO

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