Number of large spills continues to decline, says International Group’s Paulson

Statistics continued to point towards a significant decrease in the number of large spills (more than 700 tonnes) over the past few decades, which since 2010 was averaging 1.9 per year, said Tony Paulson, chair of the International Group of P&I Clubs pollutions subcommittee, in the Group’s just-published annual report 2019.

He said that the Group continued to work closely with the IMO and the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds (IOPC Funds) to promote this international framework of Conventions and, as part of an ongoing outreach programme to assist States on practical application of the Conventions, claims handling, assessment and admissibility of claims, has engaged in workshops with governments in Australasia, North and South America and the European Union over the course of the past 12 months.

He said that the cooperation in this regard highlighted the importance of sharing expertise and experience between the Group, the IMO and the IOPC Funds.

The US and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) maintain their own compensation fund system for the payment of claims for oil pollution damage arising from the carriage of persistent oil by sea. In order to cement the relationship between the Group and the Chinese Ship-source Oil Pollution Compensation Fund’ (the COPC Fund), the Group signed a Memorandum of Understanding in April 2019 with the COPC Fund that will enhance co-operation between the Group clubs and the Fund in the event of ship sourced pollution damage in Chinese waters.

The Group is also working closely with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to update the MoU signed between the Group and NOAA in 2007 to further co-operation between the Group clubs and NOAA and to promote expeditious and cost-effective restoration of injured natural resources and services resulting from ship-source oil spills in the US.

Paulson noted that the “so-called final piece” of the IMO liability and compensation framework yet to enter into force remains the 2010 HNS Convention governing liability and compensation for ship sourced damage arising from the carriage of Hazardous & Noxious Substances by sea.

South Africa’s recent ratification added to those by Turkey, Canada, Denmark and Norway. It was hoped that these would “provide an impetus for other States and the Convention to enter into force in the near future”.

The Group continues to lead an inter-industry Group to identify and monitor progress on implementation of the Convention and is also leading industry work on promoting the Convention as part of its collaborative outreach with the IMO and IOPC Funds.

IG will be providing updated historical HNS claims data to the IMO in 2020 to assist States in their progress towards implementation.

Paulson said that the framework of Conventions was built on the principles of strict liability, channelling of liability, rights of direct action against the provider of financial security and limitation of liability (along with shared liability within the (persistent) oil (as cargo) and HNS regimes).

He said that the Group had recently sought to reaffirm these principles in the IMO, particularly with respect to the shipowner’s right to limit liability, given:

  1. the fundamental importance of this right which underpins the conventions and
  2. that the long-term sustainability of the liability and compensation system depends upon uniform implementation consistent with the intention of the conventions, rather than an application or interpretation that varies from country to country.

The Group was also leading work, with the International Chamber of Shipping, in the IMO to seek to ensure consistency among States Parties while continuing to recognize that the courts in States Parties are ultimately the final arbiters.

The Group also recognises that owners are faced with new regulatory requirements