Emergency response: Oil and chemical spill contingency planning

Despite rigid enforcement of good working practices, oil spills in port and harbours can and do occur, usually as a result of accidents during normal operations, such as loading and bunkering (refuelling). Port and Harbour Authorities are responsible for dealing with pollution from spillages of oil and other hazardous substances within port and harbour areas. When a spill occurs there is a need for immediate action in order to minimise the potential for environmental and economic damage. The main means for ports and harbours to provide the immediate response required is to develop an emergency response plan. Under the Merchant Shipping (OPRC) Regulations 1998, the production of such plans is required on a mandatory basis for all ports and harbours that meet the criteria listed below.

Ports and harbours required to prepare oil spill contingency plans under OPRC

The Merchant Shipping (OPRC) Regulations 1998 apply to all ports/harbours that meet the following criteria:

  1. harbours with a statutory harbour authority having an annual turnover of more than 1 million,
  2. any harbour or any oil handling facility offering berths alongside, on buoys or anchor, to ships over 400Gt or oil tankers over 150GT,
  3. other harbours or oil handling facilities for which the Secretary of State considers maritime activities undertaken there involve a significant risk of oil spills over 10 tonnes, and
  4. As for (c) above, but where the Secretary of State considers there is risk of significant economic damage as a result of an oil spill.

The control and approval of contingency plans is the responsibility of the MCA and most relevant authorities will have a role to play in the contingency planning process. Appendix O provides further information on the contingency planning process and guidance for those smaller ports which fall outside the OPRC criteria, drawing extensively on MCA’s publication Oil spill contingency planning – Guidelines for ports, harbours and installations (1998). The Environment Agency have produced guidance to minimise the risk oil pollution from boats and refuelling facilities in marinas which are contained in the Appendix.

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