Torrey Canyon

It was the ‘Torrey Canyon’ disaster of 1967 which threatened the United Kingdom’s coastline with pollution on a scale previously not experienced that really opened the eyes of not only Britain, but of the world, to the lack of facilities to deal with such disaster. The lack of international agreement on a basis for liability and for adequate compensation for victims was also highlighted. It was, therefore, no mere coincidence that CLC came on the scene in 1969, although it was not made effective until 1975 by which time the minimum number of states as required by the Convention itself had taken the necessary steps to ratify or somehow adopt it. The original Convention of 1969, which was agreed at Brussels, imposed liabilities on the shipowner which, although comprehensive enough to reflect the gravity of the worldwide pollution situation, are not so drastic and onerous as to defeat their object by making the risks to which shipowners can be exposed virtually uninsurable. It defined liability as ‘strict’ (i.e. liability which is not dependent upon fault) where persistent oil is discharged into coastal waters causing damage to third parties’ properties. The United Kingdom adopted the CLC by the Merchant Shipping Oil Pollution Act 1971. The CLC and the Fund Convention were all based on the premise that the costs resulting from a major oil spill should be shared between the shipowner and the cargo owner (i.e. Oil Company).  It must be recognised that there is still a significant portion of the world’s tankers directly or indirectly owned by the oil companies and most of the balance – the independent fleets – only exist because the oil companies need them. Unlike dry cargo ships, tankers are locked into one commodity, not being able to switch to others, say from fertilisers to steel as a bulk carrier can in response to changes in the market. The original regimes were enhanced in 1992 by new Conventions, (the 1992 Civil Liability Convention and 1992 Fund Convention,) and the Fund conventions established an Intergovernmental organisation to administer the compensation regime – the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds (IOPC 1992).