National organisation

As part of their obligations, all the signatory countries of international conventions have set up a national organisational framework for oil spill response.

Certain countries, such as the United States, require the polluter to mobilise and deploy the necessary human and material needs while the government agencies help to establish the objectives of the response and provide supervision. Through the 1990 Oil Pollution Act (OPA), the US requires all structures and vessels which may be liable to cause an oil spill to carry out mobilisation exercises and to possess a response plan, training certificates for their personnel and an assistance contract with a specialised pollution response services company. If the polluter can not be identified or is incapable of adequately responding, the Government will implement a response effort financed by a trust fund established from an oil import tax.

Europe has chosen the alternative option of placing their public services in charge of response. Unlike the United States, European countries do not have the power to impose the possession of a response plan or an assistance contract with a specialised pollution response company upon the vessels passing their coasts. European countries may therefore have to face a situation whereby the polluter is incapable of taking on response operations. This was the case for the accident involving the Prestige.

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The Centre of Documentation, Research and Experimentation on Accidental Water Pollution (Cedre) was created in 1978, in the aftermath of the Amoco Cadiz oil spill, in a bid to be more fully prepared for accidental water pollution and to strengthen the French national response organisation.

Cedre is a state-approved association with a public service mission and is responsible, on a national scale, for documentation, research and experimentation on pollutants, their effects and the response means and tools that can be used to combat them. Its expertise encompasses both marine and inland waters. Its response department is available around the clock to provide response authorities with emergency technical assistance and, if necessary, to send a specialist on site. Cedre has a workforce of 55 employees and is equipped with technical facilities for experimentation and training, where real spills can be recreated. Its annual budget, of nearly 4.5 million Euros, is provided by State subsidies and by public and private contracts.




French and UK organisational frameworks

In the United Kingdom, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency is the authority responsible for pollution response in the marine environment.

MCA comprises two directorates: the Directorate of Maritime Safety and Pollution Prevention (MSPP) and the Directorate of Maritime Operations (DMO). Under the responsibility of the DMO is the Counter Pollution Branch (CPB), which maintains stockpiles of equipment for pollution response at sea and onshore.

The UK coastline has been divided into 4 sections by the MCA: Scotland and Northern Ireland, Western, Eastern and Southern regions. Each region has a Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) and a Principle Counter Pollution and Salvage Officer (PCPSO).

Response is coordinated at national level by the Secretary of State’s Representative for Maritime Salvage and Intervention (SOSREP), a position created in 1999. This coordinator has the power to bring under his control all the parties and organisations involved in an incident and to oversee, control and if necessary intervene in response operations in UK waters. He is appointed by the Government, but acts independently of all political power.

In France, the organisation of response and response preparedness is set out in an instruction known as the “Polmar instruction”.

Response at sea is the responsibility of the Préfets maritimes, chief officers of the French Navy fulfilling a civil function. They must establish a response plan for their maritime region (Polmar Sea Plan), including an inventory of civil and military naval response means.

Response on land is the responsibility of mayors for small incidents and Préfets de département for pollution which affects several communes. The prefects coordinate the preparation and regular updates of departmental response plans (Polmar Land Plans). For major pollution incidents affecting several departments, zonal coordination is managed by the relevant Préfecture de zone de défense.