The loss of the tanker Prestige should convince the international community of the need to deal with the places of refuge issue once and for all, the International Salvage Union (ISU) said today.
Joop Timmermans, ISU President, says: “Clearly, no-one is satisfied with the present system, which is dominated by knee-jerk reactions from politicians who have no experience of marine salvage and the assessment of pollution threats. There must be a better way of working.
“Salvors are best qualified to provide technical input when requests for shelter are made. Naturally, the salvor wants to save the ship and keep the pollutant inside the vessel. This is also what the politicians want. The Prestige case makes the point that taking the advice of salvage experts is the essential first step in the fight to prevent or reduce pollution.
“We understand the political difficulties surrounding such decisions, especially when a vessel is leaking oil, but the fact remains that there is no substitute for salvage expertise when evaluating the threat presented by a casualty.”
The ISU believes that the best possible EU response to the Prestige would be the pan-European adoption of the UK model for streamlined salvage decision-making. The Salvage Master is in command of the salvage operation, working in cooperation with a senior government official representing the public interest (and with powers to intervene, if necessary). In the UK, the latter responsibility belongs to the Secretary of State’s Representative, or “SOSREP”.
Joop Timmermans says: “Every EU State should act now and appoint a SOSREP with full authority to take decisions in a marine emergency, on the government’s behalf. This approach offers fast and effective command in situations where every minute counts and difficult decisions have to be made.”
The ISU President adds: “I believe this is the way forward for the EU. As a first step, I intend to set out this proposal in an ISU submission to the European Commission. In addition, the ISU will submit fresh proposals for the consideration of the International Maritime Organization.
“Meanwhile, I call on IMO Secretary
-General William O’Neil to accelerate the current IMO work on international guidelines concerning places of refuge. I urge IMO member governments to accept ISU proposals which would contribute to a rational approach on these issues.”
Earlier this year, the ISU made proposals for IMO consideration:
1. States should carry out a physical inspection of a casualty BEFORE taking a decision on requests for shelter.
2. States should set up a panel of experts to advise on the risks posed by a casualty requiring a place of refuge.
3. Consideration should be given to the evaluation of the potential consequences, should a place of refuge be refused.