Myths and realities

As legitimate and understandable as it may be, the appeal “never again!” which follows every major oil spill has about as much of a chance of being fulfilled as the “no more accidents!” appealed for after an air or rail disaster.

The failures which occurred must be analysed and prevention reinforced as a consequence. However, zero risk does not exist. Whatever the efforts made, other spills will inevitably occur. “Never again!” is sadly a deceptive illusion.

“Never again like that!” is, on the other hand, quite realistic. Every major spill has led to the reinforcement of prevention and response preparedness. Even although the bucket and spade remain the essential tools of oil spill response, much progress has been made. The frequency of accidents has considerably decreased.

Recovery of heavy fuel oil at sea has been made possible. The foreshore can now be cleaned without exacerbating damages, including using machinery. Tight flow waste management has become possible.

In all these fields, feedback from real-life experience has allowed progress to be made. However, the increase in maritime traffic and in the number of vessels circulating in the world’s oceans, as well as the diversification of cargos, has generated new risks, which will have to be dealt with. At the same time, public demand for more rapid and environmentally friendly clean-up and restoration increase with every new accident. In all fields, more must be done to fulfil demands.






The European Erika “packages”

The Erika oil spill triggered a series of European initiatives, in the form of sets of measures known as the “Erika packages“. These packages contain pollution prevention measures and measures which extend well beyond this issue. They were in the process of being negotiated at the time of the Prestige spill. They were largely driven by the emotion that this new oil spill stirred up.

The “Erika 1” package came completely into force in July 2003. It includes three main measures:
• reinforcement of the control of the flag State, with the publishing of a blacklist of damaged vessels
• setting up of control procedures for vessel classification societies
• an agreement with the International Maritime Organization to speed up the removal of single hull tankers from the worldwide fleet.

The “Erika 2” package, which is partially in force at the time of writing, is also made up of three main measures:
• the creation of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), which became functional in spring 2003
• an agreement for the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds (IOPC Funds) on tier 3 compensation funds (COPE, the Compensation for Oil Pollution in European waters fund), which came into force in March 2005, increasing the maximum possible amount of compensation in member States to one billon Euros
• the creation of a European maritime traffic control and monitoring system in the zones under the authority of member States.

A third package of measures, aiming to reinforce the competitiveness of European flags, compliance with rules in force, prevention of pollution and international cooperation, was proposed in 2005. It should come in effect in 2007.