Good prevention initiatives can go a long way in reducing the risk of pollution from ships. However, in spite of best efforts, spills will inevitably occur. When this happens, it is necessary to ensure that effective preparedness measures are in place that will ensure a timely and coordinated response to limit the adverse consequences of pollution incidents involving oil and hazardous and noxious substances (HNS).
The International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation 1990 (OPRC 90) is the international instrument that provides a framework designed to facilitate international co-operation and mutual assistance in preparing for and responding to major oil pollution incidents.
The Protocol on Preparedness, Response and Co-operation to Pollution Incidents by Hazardous and Noxious Substances, 2000 (OPRC-HNS Protocol) extends this regulatory framework to address pollution incidents involving hazardous and noxious substances, i.e. chemicals.
States which are party to OPRC 90 and OPRC-HNS Protocol are required to establish a national system for responding to oil and HNS pollution incidents, including a designated national authority, a national operational contact point and a national contingency plan. This needs to be backstopped by a minimum level of response equipment, communications plans, regular training and exercises.
In terms of reporting, Member States are required to provide to IMO, directly or through the relevant regional organization or arrangements:
- Information on responsible authorities and entities, information concerning pollution response equipment and expertise in disciplines related to pollution response and marine salvage which may be made available to other States upon request and its national contingency plan (Article 6 of the OPRC 90 and Article 4 of the OPRC-HNS Protocol);
- Copies of bilateral or multilateral agreements for oil pollution preparedness and response (Article 10 of the OPRC 90 and Article 8 of the OPRC-HNS Protocol); and
- Article 4 of the OPRC Convention reaffirms the oil pollution reporting requirements defined under the MARPOL Convention.
In addition to the requirement for implementing national response systems, the two instruments also promote cooperation amongst Parties through the establishment of bilateral and multilateral agreements to augment national-level response capacity, when needed. Most importantly, OPRC 90 and OPRC-HNS Protocol 2000 provide the mechanism for Parties to request assistance from any other state Party, when faced with a major pollution incident.
There are a number of key benefits for those States acceding to the instruments, notably:
- Access to an international platform for co-operation and mutual assistance in preparing for and responding to major oil and HNS pollution incidents, and a mechanism for establishing co-operative arrangements with other State Parties;
- A means for urgently accessing relevant technical assistance and response resources in the event of an oil or HNS incident
- A framework for the development of national and regional capacity to prepare for, and respond to, oil and HNS incidents;
- Participation in a network for the exchange of new research and development information, best practices and practical experiences in oil and HNS response; and
- Access to training and support for developing the essential preparedness and response structures and legislation, at national and regional levels, through IMO's Integrated Technical Cooperation Programme (ITCP).