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Shipping Pollution: Rights of Coastal Inhabitants

written by: domanconsulting • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 2/2/2009

Pollution within our Ocean's has become a contentious environmental issue. This article aims to identify the legal principles, burdens and rights for inhabitants of coastal areas directly affected by the threat of shipping pollution.

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    Introduction

    The entire transportation industry has over the last few years been subject to major regulations regarding its approach to pollution and its impact on the environment in general. Any of us who have flown regularly will be very conscious of the fuel surcharges we must pay to meet the higher taxation on airline fuel as governments look to smooth out the problem of excessive flying. However, air travel is far from the only sector of the transportation industry to have been called to answer the issue of environmental pollution. Shipping is right in among the field as an industry that has been called upon to do more in order to meet regulations.

    Among these actions, the latest is the Merchant Shipping (Pollution) Act of 2006 which seeks to reinforce the laws governing forms of marine pollution from oil slicks to exhaust pollution and dumping at sea. The Act itself draws together additions and other amendments to the different regulations that have emerged in the past few decades dealing with maritime law-based solutions to the problem of marine pollution. There have been a few separate acts in this regard over the years, but no specific Maritime Pollution Act until 2006.

    The regulations that have been amended and augmented by the Marine Shipping (Pollution) Act are; the MARPOL Convention on marine pollution which was drawn up in 1973 and modified in 1978 and specifically dealing with pollution of the seas, preserving the marine environment from the deliberate or accidental discharge of harmful substances; and the Merchant Shipping Act of 1995. The 1995 Act had in place a statute of limitations restricting those who wished to bring a case in respect of its laws being broken. This statute ruled that claims could only be enforced up to three years after a claim against the IMO’s supplementary fund and within six years of the incident itself. The amendment thereto further limited claims – to within three years of any damage occurring.

    The Supplementary Fund itself was created in 2003, when the IMO directed that there was a need for the setting up of a fund to pay out damages in case of damage cause by oil slicks and other forms of environmental pollution. This was viewed as necessary in the light of a number of incidents going back over several years where oil tankers had run aground spilling their loads into the sea and causing large oil slicks. All of us can think of at least one occasion on which this has happened – the most famous being arguably the Exxon Valdez, one of the largest oil spills in US history, but this was far from the only case. As far back as 1978, it was the Amoco Cadiz that split in two and caused what at that time was the largest oil spill ever.

    Given the rise in priority of environmental issues, it is therefore no surprise that the IMO would look to ensure that action would be taken to bring in regulations that may prevent the same things happening again.