Averting the next tanker disaster: The case for unilateral action

The oil disaster in the Shetlands has underlined yet again how little can be done to stop pollution damage once a major tanker accident occurs, and that the emphasis must be on preventing such accidents. But trends in the tanker industry over the past 15 years have defeated the efforts of a weak International Maritime Organization (IMO) to regulate sub-standard vessels out of the industry. And in the UK, the Department of Transport (DoT) has consistently put the interests of the shipping industry ahead of environmental safeguards, insisting that higher standards of tanker safety must be agreed through the IMO rather than imposed unilaterally by the UK or EC. The spate of recent tanker accidents has now put it under strong pressure to reconsider.

At the close of the 1970s, an upsurge in tanker accidents brought the oil and shipping industries under unprecedented pressure to improve tanker safety. At least a dozen spills of more than 1,000 tonnes of oil occurred off the coast of Europe in 1978-79. Off the British coast, some 10,000 tonnes of oil were lost in incidents during 1978 involving the Esso Bernicia in Sullom Voe, the Eleni V off Norfolk, and the Christos Bitas off Milford Haven

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