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December 2010

Searchlight Feature - 7th December 2010

Maritime Legislation – how did we get where we are…?

We thought it might be worthwhile and interesting to have a look at the origins of some of the “raft” of maritime legislation we all have to deal with on a daily basis.

In the course of editing this we found it very interesting especially when one sees a summary of it all in one place rather than as separate documents. Of course this summary in no way should be seen as a replacement for referring to the actual legislation. Anyway have a look at this – there are some interesting statistics – some of which took a bit of time to find.


The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) is the most important treaty protecting the safety of merchant ships. The first version of the treaty was passed in 1914 in response to the sinking of the RMS Titanic, the second in 1929, the third in 1948, and the fourth in 1960. The 1960 version was the first major achievement of the newly formed IMO. A newer version in 1974 simplified the code and there have been amendments since. For instance in 1988 the use of the Morse code was displaced by GMDSS.

Initially SOLAS prescribed numbers of lifeboats and other emergency equipment along with safety procedures, including continuous radio watches. It now encompasses all aspects of safety at sea. The intention of IMO is to keep this convention up to date by periodic amendments.

MARPOL 1973 - Annex I

This Convention which was agreed after the tanker the Torrey Canyon ran aground in 1967, causing the largest oil spillage ever recorded up to that time of 119,000 tons. The 1973 MARPOL Convention was more stringent than OILPOL, which was concerned with pollution from routine tanker operations, as it included regulations against pollution from ships of oil, chemicals, harmful substances carried in packaged form, sewage, garbage, and air pollution.

MARPOL 1973/78 - Convention

The 1973 MARPOL Convention had not been ratified when, in response to a spate of tanker accidents in 1976–7, mainly in U.S. waters, the IMO held another conference in 1978 which agreed to a second convention. This absorbed the first convention as well as adopting measures affecting tanker design and operation, and was subsequently ratified.

If the world needed further reminders of the need for strict regimes to control oil pollution, it got it just one month after the 1978 Conference, when the Amoco Cadiz ran aground off Brittany, giving France its worst oil spill ever. The tanker, filled with 223,000 tons of crude oil, lost its entire cargo, covering more than 130 beaches in oil. In places, the oil was up to 30 cm thick.
Sufficient States had ratified MARPOL by October 1982, and the MARPOL 1973/78 Convention entered into force on 2 October 1983.
There have been various annexes added to this convention, namely:

  • Annex I – Regulation for the prevention of pollution by oil – entered into force October1983.
  • Annex II – Regulation for the control of pollution by noxious liquid substances in bulk – entered into force October 1983.
  • Annex III – Prevention of pollution by harmful substances carried by sea in packaged form – entered into force July 1992.
  • Annex IV – Prevention of pollution by sewage from ships – entered into force September 2003.
  • Annex V – Prevention of pollution by garbage from ships – entered into force December 1988.
  • Annex VI – Prevention of air pollution from ships – entered into force May 2005.

And no doubt there will be more!!!

OPA 90

The grounding of the Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound in March 1989, and the subsequent spillage of more than 11 million gallons (approx 37,000 tons) of crude oil into Alaskan waters, resulted in changes in both the character of tank vessel design standards and the manner in which they are formulated. In August 1990, the U.S. Congress promulgated P.L. 101-380, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90). The intent of this law was, in part, to minimize oil spills through improved tanker design, operational changes, and greater preparedness. Section 4115 of OPA 90 focused on changes in ship design – notably double hulls – to prevent or minimize spillage when an accident occurs. Single-hull tank vessels of 5,000 gross tons or more will be excluded from U.S. waters after 2010 unless they are equipped with a double bottom or double sides, in which case they may be permitted to trade to the United States through to 2015, depending on their age. An exemption allows single-hull tankers trading to the United States to unload their cargo offshore at deepwater ports or in designated lightering areas through to 2015, when a total ban comes into full effect. As of 2010 there are very few crude carriers left in the world which are single hull.

The Erika – incident 1999

The sinking of the Erika off the coast of France in December 1999, spilling 20,000 tons led to a new, accelerated phase-out schedule for single-hull tankers – and the revision of the old regulation 13G of MARPOL.

The investigations into the Erika incident carried out by the French government and the Maltese maritime authority concluded that age, corrosion, insufficient maintenance and inadequate surveys were all strong contributing factors to the structural failure of the ship.

The Prestige - incident 2002

The sinking of the Prestige in November 2002 with a loss of 63,000 tons of fuel oil led to further calls for amendments to the phase-out schedule for single hull tankers.

An extra session of the MEPC committee convened in December 2003, to consider the adoption of proposals for an accelerated phase-out scheme for single hull tankers, along with other measures including an extended application of the Condition Assessment Scheme (CAS) for tankers for single hull tankers.

DEEPWATER HORIZAN – incident 2010

The Deepwater Horizon incident created an estimated pollution of 740,000 tons of crude oil – the biggest oil pollution incident since Saddam Husain opened the oil wells in Kuwait to the sea in 1991! The moratorium on deep water drilling in the U.S. Gulf was lifted in October 2010 but new regulations, many of which are still not formulated, will mean new drilling is unlikely, even by the best prepared Company’s, to commence before April 2011. However some of the new requirements are known such as additional rig shut down mechanisms should the blow out preventer (BOP) fail and guarantees on containment equipment availability. There will certainly be other requirements in equipment and management requirements.

Will any of this affect the marine industry? Most certainly! We are already beginning to feel repercussions with ever more stringent SIRE inspections of tankers by the oil majors. Whilst ‘nit picking’ by many of these inspectors has been commented upon over the last two to three years this ‘nip picking’ has certainly been increasing since the Deepwater incident.

It is ironic a marine pollution incident, this time not created within the shipping industry will most probably have costly repercussions on the industry and at a time of depressed markets, yet past shipping related pollution incidents do not appear to have had any effects on the offshore drilling industry!


By mid 2010 only approximately 7% of the worlds tanker fleet was single hull and it is expect this figure will be very near zero by the end of 2010.

Author: IAN HALL