Royal Society

The major spill of more than 10 million gallons of crude oil from the Exxon Valdez  in 1989 was almost certainly the factor which precipitated the US Congress into enacting legislation – the (Federal) Oil Pollution Act 1990 (OPA90) totally independent from any  International Conventions. The Braer, which spilled its oil cargo on the shores of the Shetland Islands in 1993, led to the Donaldson Inquiry into the prevention of pollution from merchant shipping: and resulted in a report entitled ‘Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas’.  (For additional reading see Mark Wallace [1995] Lloyds Maritime and Commercial Law Quarterly 404). The Sea Empress grounded off West Wales in 1997, spilling more than 72,000 tonnes of oil. The Sea Empress Environmental Evaluation Committee prepared a report of the clean-up operation. The committee urges the Government to make coastal councils legally responsible for shore clean-up operations. (A similar recommendation was made by Lord Donaldson, but was not implemented.) Various other recommendations and actions took place at the time including the Government chartering three emergency towing tugs to assist ships in distress based in the Strait of Dover, the Minches (off northwest Scotland), and in the Western Approaches off Scotland. The tugs were, however, put on station between October and March, drawing criticism from environmentalists who argue that the stand-by should be year-long. Further criticisms of the Government (which is accused of ‘foot-dragging’ by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) centre around the suggestions of marine environment high risk areas around the coast. (Such areas in which there would be tighter rules on shipping and other activities, were a key recommendation of the Donaldson Inquiry.)