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Make ship owners pay for polluting shores

Written By krishna on Monday, August 08, 2011 | 8:11 PM

MUMBAI: The oil spill from MV Rak Carrier, which sank off the city's coast last Thursday, underlines the need to fix liability for marine pollution caused by vessels. Maritime experts say the Centre should ratify at the earliest the International Maritime Organization's Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea Protocol 2010, which fixes liability by spelling out compensatory provisions and by mandating the need for ship owners to have insurance.

Unlike existing national laws, the global convention places a huge monetary liability on ship owners if their vessel causes marine pollution. For oil spills, for instance, it seeks up to 100 million Special Drawing Rights (1 SDR is equal to Rs 71.41) from ship owners, and for leakage of packaged hazardous substances, it seeks a penalty of 115 million SDR.

Coast guard records show that 68 oil spills occurred in Indian waters between 1996 and 2008 and that they have recovered Rs 8.13 crore in damages. Experts say ratifying the IMO convention could help recover true cost of damages.

Action against marine pollution currently falls under the purview of multiple agencies in India. Environmental experts say their lack of preparedness comes to the fore at times like these. India, for instance, has in place a National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan since 1996, but last year the then environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, himself raised concerns about the safeguards to handle Tier I oil spills (the most minor kind, which involves below 700 tonnes of oil) after one such incident happened off Mumbai's shores last August.

"Accidents will happen but it is important to examine if we have prepared ourselves to deal with such oil spills since the last incident ," says Deepak Apte, head of Bombay Natural History Society's maritime conservation programme.

Gopal Krishna of voluntary organization Toxic Watch Alliance says the incident highlights the lack of regulation on the trans-boundary movement of ships. "There are too many agencies involved and not much coordination ," he says. The coast guard, for instance, is the coordination agency in charge of responding to oil spills, but fixing liability on ship owners lies with the directorate general of shipping and the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board.

Krishna says the lack of transparency in paperwork of many ships entering Indian waters further complicates the issue as tracing owners after accidents remains a challenge.

Officials, however, claim that they are doing their best. "We have a system to control and neutralize oil spills," says Captain Manohar Nambiar , defence spokesman.

Rule book

Merchant Shipping Act 1958-Section 356J of the Act seeks to 'prevent sea pollution by oil' . Violation could lead to a jail term of up to six months or a fine of up to Rs 10 lakh or both.

Environment Protection Act 1986-Penalty for marine pollution up to Rs 1 lakh.

Public Liability Insurance Act-In case a person is injured, medical expenses up to Rs 12,500 have to be reimbursed, and in case of a fatal accident, up to Rs 25,000 has to be given as compensation.

What the govt should do

Become a signatory to the Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea (HNS Protocol 2010) of the International Maritime Organization, which comes into force in October 2011 The convention was adopted on April 30, 2010.

According to IMO, marine pollution due to oil spills are classified as Tier 1 (Below 700 tonnes of oil), Tier 2 (700 to 10,000 tonnes) and Tier 3 (10,000 to 100,000 tonnes) HNS include oils, other liquid substances defined as noxious or dangerous, liquefied gases, among other substances The convention introduces a system of compulsory insurance and insurance certificates. It also fixes liability.

For damage caused by bulk HNS, compensation of up to 100 million Special Drawing Rights (SDR) can be sought from the ship owner. One SDR was equal to Rs 71.41 as of August 5 For damage caused by packaged HNS, or by both bulk HNS and packaged HNS, the maximum liability for the ship owner is 115 million SDR Beyond this limit, the compensation would be paid from a second tier, the HNS Fund, up to a maximum of 250 million SDR (including compensation paid under the first tier) As yet, it has been signed by Denmark, though 12 other nations have shown interest.

Madhavi Rajadhyaksha,
The Times of India
| Aug 9, 2011
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