EU Members and coastal states worldwide are in danger
of “losing the plot” over the response to the Prestige spill, according to the International Salvage Union (ISU). In a statement issued today (November 13), to mark the first anniversary of the loss of the tanker off the Spanish coast, ISU President Joop Timmermans said:
“Much has been achieved since the loss of the Prestige. In particular, there is now a much clearer understanding of the importance of taking the right decision when confronted with a request for a place of refuge. New guidelines in this area are about to be adopted by the IMO. Unfortunately, however, governments appear to be at risk of losing the plot when it comes to the fundamental issue: preventing the next Prestige.
“While there is always room for improvement in the management and operation of ships, no amount of fresh regulatory action will eradicate the potential for another Prestige. The obvious counter, therefore, is to reinforce salvage cover in areas of the world that are heavily trafficked and environmentally sensitive.
“The investment needed to achieve a dramatic reinforcement of salvage cover is small-scale and out of all proportion to the much larger potential benefit. In 2002, the ISU membership’s income from casualty salvage totalled just US $120 million. In contrast, the cost of the Prestige clean-up and compensation settlement will run into billions.”
The huge financial burden of Prestige-type events can be avoided in almost all cases. Joop Timmermans adds: “There are various estimates of the Prestige costs. The latest estimate, produced by WWF, states that damage to tourism, fishing, other economic interests and natural heritage may involve a final cost in the order of €5 billion. It also notes that the Spanish Government has developed a €12.5 billion recovery strategy for Galicia.
“In contrast, we estimate that the Salvage Award for the Prestige – had the salvor been granted a place of refuge and so had the chance to prevent the loss of the vessel – would have been in the order of €5-15 million. While some pollution of a safe haven would have been inevitable, it would have been on a much more modest scale. The cost would probably have been in the order of €20-30 million.
“The cost of a successful salvage, with limited pollution damage, would have been €50 million at most. Instead, the cost may run into several billions. Governments need to wake up to the fact that the investment of a tiny fraction of such huge sums would be enough to transform the availability of salvage protection and do much to prevent billion dollar plus spill events.