Catastrophe

As everybody today is aware, the issue of oil pollution is immensely emotive. It is, not surprisingly, of paramount importance in the maritime world. It is as massive a subject and for the purposes of this course it is impossible to go into the subject in anything more than a brief consideration. For a fuller insight students may wish to refer to Christopher Hill’s ‘Maritime Law’. Oil pollution, as a problem, was not seriously discussed internationally until the mid 1950s when an international conference (1954) was held to discuss prevention of pollution of the sea by oil. No sense of urgency for international action arose until the ‘Torrey Canyon’ catastrophe in 1967. Subsequently the problem of oil pollution has been a major headache throughout the world. That incident showed the immense range of damage which one oil spill from one vessel is able to do. The pressure on governments to ‘do something’ about the damage caused by such oil spills is ever-increasing in today’s environmentally aware society. There will also be a brief consideration of two voluntary agreements which were introduced entirely under the oil and tanker industries own initiatives but were discontinued after the introduction of the 1992 protocol to the CLC; it can be argued that the voluntary agreements “paved the way” for the 1992 Protocol. Oil pollution has been a forefront issue since the Torrey Canyon disaster. In March 1978 (11 years after the Torrey Canyon), the far larger Amoco Cadiz spilled its load of crude oil onto the beaches of Brittany after encountering problems with her steering gear 13 miles off the French coast just before entering, north-east bound, the traffic routeing system in the English Channel. A few weeks later, the tanker Eleni V was split in two as a result of a collision with another vessel off the east coast of England. A considerable amount of her oil cargo polluted the English coastline.