NO: DELENG / 2017 / 70663
official media partner of national maritime foundation
Mrs. Sandhya Pillayi: Marine Pollution
By Sea and Coast | 18/06/2019

Pollution may be classified as one of our modern worlds’ biggest threats and challenges. This article addresses in brief some of the marine pollution incidents/accidents on the Indian coast, the Indian shipping policy governing such incidents and the prevention and management of these disasters.

 Much quoted and debated one such case is that of the collision between the container vessel ‘MV MSC Chitra’ and the bulk carrier ‘MV Khalija-111.’ This case highlighted the need for soundproof pollution regimes. On 7th August 2010, in the midst of the relentless Indian monsoon, the ‘MV Chitra’ was just leaving the harbor of the JNPT port with a full load of about 1200 containers and the Khalijaa-111 was just entering into the port. The vessels collided resulting in widespread and disastrous repercussions on the marine environment. The ‘MV Chitra’ grounded which led to the rupture of two fuel tanks on the port side. As the vessel listed dangerously the oil spill continued at a steady rate of 20 tons per hour. The monsoon weather with high seas and strong winds worsened the pollution. To make matters worse, 300 containers fell overboard, of which about 43 containers contained IMDG cargoes. 60 kilometres of the shoreline, residential, fisheries, mangroves, ports and historic islands were affected. Much of the oil washed ashore did not emulsify due to the dispersants used. Restriction of ship movements affected the logistics chain and the harbor was closed for fishing for a substantial period.

 The ‘MV Black Rose’ with a cargo of iron ore fines sank at Paradip anchorage on 9th September 2009. Although about 200 to 500 litres of oil is reported to have escaped, the remaining 930 tons of fuel oil was salvaged by engaging hot tapping method and transporting the pumped- out oil in lorries. The ‘MV Rak’ carrying around 290 tons of furnace oil, 50 tons of fuel oil and 60,000 tons of coal sank about 25 nautical miles from the Mumbai coast. An earlier incident wherein an Indian oil and ONGC pipeline burst resulted in a huge spill of about 30,000 barrels of crude into the Arabian Sea.

The liability for maritime accidents in India are based upon international, custom , treaty law based on international conventions and decisions of the Indian and foreign courts. Some of the legislation dealing with the combating of oil pollution is:

  • The Merchant Shipping Act, 1958
  • The Marine Insurance Act, 1963
  • The Merchant Shipping (Prevention of pollution by Oil from Ships) Rules, 2010

The Merchant Shipping Act applies to an Indian Ship and every foreign ship while it is at a port or place in India or within the Indian territorial waters or any over which India has exclusive jurisdiction with respect to control of oil pollution. It does not apply to warships or ships owned or operated by a state for non-commercial purposes. The MS Act, in line with the Convention on Limitation of Liability of Maritime Claims, 1976, limits the liability of the Shipowner in respect of any oil pollution damage arising from any one or more incidents as may be prescribed. Par X of the Act fixes liability in proportion to fault of parties in case of collision and maritime accidents. The MS Act however precludes the Owner from limiting liability in case of negligence. Any Owner desirous of availing the benefits of limitation of liability has to apply to the High Court for the constitution of a limitation fund. All ships carrying 2,000 tons or more oil in bulk as cargo are required to supply a certificate confirming liability insurance. Any certificate issued outside India by a competent authority is accepted at any port in India. Without such certificate the ship is not permitted to enter or leave any Indian port or place in the territorial waters of India. The protocol of 1996, amends the Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims, wherein the persons allowed to limit liability are the owner/charterer/manager, master/crew in the course of their employment, a salvor, and an insurer of liability.

The International convention governing the tarring of beaches consequent to operational discharge of bunker oil from ships or tankers is the Convention on Civil liability for Bunker oil pollution Damage, 2001 (Bunker Convention). India is a party to the MARPOL, wherein port trusts and the Director- General of shipping is under an obligation to take measures to prevent oil pollution including having in place disaster management plans and equipment for mitigating and cleaning up. Under the allocation of Business Rules, 1962 and also under the procedure established in the National Oil Spill Disaster contingency plan (NOSDCP), the responsibility of responding to oil pollution at ports rests with the concerned port and the port can claim the costs from the shipowner/insurer. The Indian Coast guard under the NOSDCP is assigned the task of monitoring coastal pollution across the Indian coast.

The south Asia chemical pollution contingency plans funded by the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Maritime Organisation call for strong risk assessment and mitigation capabilities at major and intermediate ports. Under the National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan (NOSDCP) every Indian port is to have a response system in place.  The Shipowner is obligated to remove the trapped oil from the casualty ridden ship. The DG Shipping and Indian coastguard are empowered to take action against the polluting ship by issuing notices for clean-up and other necessary actions against the shipowner/ offshore installation operator.

With Indias’ vast coastline, it is imperative that we be prepared with regards to oil spills, prevention, mitigation and provisions which protect and deter. The widespread ecological damage any pollution incident leaves in its wake, makes it inevitable that adequate measures be undertaken to prevent pollution in the first instance. The international community in co-operation with the local governments, need to work in an atmosphere of tangible reciprocity to contain this elusive and potential threat.