Oil tanker sinks off Spain

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Susan Leighton

Guest
David,
I understand the reasoning for single-hulled ships transporting gasoline during WWII. What I still do not understand is why, in 2002, the OIL industry would not want to to protect their product by transporting it in a safe container... Since as you say...'there are a billion possible things that can go wrong with a ship'. Perhaps this question can not be answered in this forum. What happened with the Prestige could possibly have been avoided if the storage system holding the petroleum product had been upgraded.
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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Double hulls are not the cure-all that the media would have us believe. They contain numerous small compartments that are liable to hidden corrosion. Any ship is only a good as her maintenance. Remember that practically every commercial vessel afloat has a single hull shell. They are not much different from our old friend from Belfast. Most of them don't sink, because most owners take some care and those who don't are made to when their ships reach nations who enforce proper standards. Prestige appears to have slipped through the net, though she was in drydock quite recently. She was one of a fleet of seven, all over 20 years old and one 30 years old.
 

Noel F. Jones

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May 14, 2002
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Susan Leighton asks:

What I still do not understand is why, in 2002, the OIL industry would not want to to protect their product by transporting it in a safe container...

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with single-skin tankships and, as has been pointed out, the protection afforded by doubling the hull is limited to a narrow range of navigational vicissitudes.

The dilemma with older tankships is that there is not enough modern tonnage to service the international oil trade while the older vessels work their way out of the system. Even a state-sponsored 'crash' building programme would take years to fulfil the deficit. One estimate puts this at 27% of the total available tonnage for some specified age parameter. Removing that tonnage from the international fleet would mean we'd be queuing at the pumps for days, not hours!

(A similar dilemma affected the drive-through vehicle ferry fleets when internal subdivision and stability upgrades were given the weight of law after several disasters. There still had to be a time lapse to put the requisite structural alterations into effect otherwise the various transport infrastructures would have failed – with considerable economic and social impact.)

As for controls, the industry relies on pre-charter surveys acceptable to charterers and, more pertinently, their insurers or the P&I Clubs (shipowners mutual protecting and indemnity associations).

Outside of these intra-industry protections there is a supervening inspectorate known as Port State Control. This is a jurisdictional intervention founded in international convention. Unilateral action by individual states is usually not a satisfactory solution because, one way or another, problems tend to fetch up on their coasts anyway. A cause of action after the event is scant satisfaction for a pollution incident.


Port State Control allows a sovereign state to detain visiting vessels of any flag, but this is limited to specific defects affecting seaworthiness. It does not invoke construction per se unless it trangresses internationally accepted standards.

The casualty sustained by the Prestige was intially containable had it not been for the obtuseness of the authorities on the adjacent littoral. They abnegated any duty of care in the interests of short-term damage limitation. In other words they gambled with seafarers lives and international property – and lost!

Noel
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Susan -- I think what you are asking is for a ship built of "unobtanium," that miracle metal that bends but does not break under all conditions so that oil will never leak out. Alas, the very name indicates why this material is never used--it is unobtainable.

There is no such thing as a safe ship in the sense of one that cannot under some circumstance come to grief. Life itself is not safe. What we must accept is that some oil will be spilled from time to time. The alternative is to go back to a way of life that is pre-Industrial Revolution. We could not even feed ourselves without oil for farm equipment. So, the necessary movement of oil means some spillage.

What we must work toward is the minimum amount of oil cast upon the water needlessly. That is, we need to put petroeum products in the best designed, best built, best maintained, best manned, and best captained ships available. Unfortunately, human beings are seldom that perfect in their endeavors.

I wish also to point out that this is the second major oil spill that I can recall in which governmental action was instrumental in creating the problem. Decisions by bureaucrats can have as much influence over spilled oil as the container from which it spilled. Joe Hazlewood of the Exxon Valdez was crucified in the press--but nobody mentioned that the shipping company's plan to contain the spill was blocked by federal and state environmental officials for more than 30 hours. During those hours the spill became a disaster which would never have happened if private enterprise had been allowed to function unfettered.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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I can't remember the name of the ship, but I recall an incident with a tanker that ran into trouble trying to get into harbour in Great Britain where similar governmental hand wringing (Read that to mean Foot Dragging) had the same effect of making matters worse.

The ship survived...barely...only after a three ring circus in getting salvage vessels out to the scene and actually letting them do their job had taken place. This ship was featured in the "Disaster" series which ran in the U.K. and has since been in re-runs on the Discovery and History channels.

The moral of the story: To err is human, but to really muck up the works takes a bureacracy!

That appears to be the culprit with the Prestige.

Anyone care to take any bets on the governments involved coming clean on this?
smoke.gif
 

Noel F. Jones

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Michael,

The vessel was the Sea Empress, the port was Milford Haven and the initial date Feb 15, 1996.

The Sea Empress was inward bound to Milford Haven. Sea Empress is/was a segregated ballast tanker of 77,356 gross registered tons. Her length overall was 274 metres and her beam was 43.25 metres. Her summer deadweight was 147,273 tonnes. She was laden with a cargo of 130,994 tonnes of Forties light crude oil. Her draft was 15.9 metres fore and aft.

At 20 07 hours that evening she struck the mid-channel rocks on the starboard side of the West Channel entrance. There was an immediate cargo escape of about 2500 tons of crude oil. Shortly afterwards, she grounded in Mill Bay.

The casualty was attributed to pilot error, the port authority being the pilotage authority. The port authority was subsequently given an exemplary fine of £4,000,000 plus some £850.000 costs.

Subsequent mismanagement of the casualty does not seem to have been a factor in imposing legal penalty. The vessel's master, Mark Edwards, was a co-defendant but does not seem to have incurred any legal penalty.

A fine commensurate with the full environmental damage would have wiped out the port authority to no good public purpose.

Noel
 
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Noel-- I think that putting a governmental agency out of business by bankrupting it and forcing a wholesale change of people, regulations, etc. is a wonderful idea that would in fact serve the public purpose.

Why do we assume that it is in the public iterest to let muckle-headed bureaucrats cause huge bungles without penalty? Why shouldn't the government fall under the same penalties as private enterprise. Maybe if that happened...and whole new goverments took over (such as happens in more violent revolutions)...we might find that bureaucracy would serve the public benefit instead of its own ends.

-- David G. Brown
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Thanks for that name Noel...but I have to concur with Dave on the matter of holding governmental authorities to the highest of standards however. What happened with the Sea Empress was a three ring circus which made matters worse because the bureaucrats spent days making an in-decision rather then making a decision.
 
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Philippe Delaunoy

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The sister ship of the PRESTIGE arrived today at Antwerp (Belgium) ...

Finger crossed ...

Phil
 
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Susan Leighton

Guest
David,
Are you suggesting that 'violent revolutions' are the answer to government bureaucracy, and Michael: as a Veteran of The US Government, do you agree with that statement?...those are very strong words. I am also a U S Veteran and currently a government employee, so I certainly understand the frustration regarding government decisions (or indecisions), but I would not advocate an overthrow of the government through violent reform.
In my experience with 'environmental enforcement', all government entities in the United States are subject to the exact same regulations as private enterprise, including the assessment of penalties for non-compliance.
 
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No, David is not advocating violent revolutions...although he did point out what happens when they occur. What David was saying that we should hold governmental buracracies and bureaucrats to high standards of accountability.

I do agree with that.
 
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Susan -- No, I am not advocating the overthrow of any government through force and violence. What I would urge is another kind of revolution that would overthrow bad governance through the use of rule of law.

From a practical standpoint, governments are exempt from the legal consequences of their actions when it comes to enforcing the law. Thus, we have multiple situations in which governmental agencies have directly caused large oil spills and yet do not face civil or criminal sanctions for their actions.

The Spanish government refused a direct request from a ship in distress for safe harbor. This is outrageous behavior in a historical, ethical, moral, or environmental context. Not only did it unnecessarily put human lives in jeopardy, but it also resulted in the ship breaking apart with the resulting oil spill. Will anyone in government be called to criminal court as a result? Will the Spanish government be held responsible in the same sense as a private corporation for its role in the environmental mess?

The Exxon Valdez is a similar case. The ship was responsible for going aground and the initial oil spill. The previously-agreed plan for containment was put into effect by the company, but then halted by direct order from federal and state officials for 30+ hours. It was the halting of the containment effort that created the ecological disaster--not the grounding of the ship. Who was called into criminal court? Not the officials who created the disaster, but the captain of the ship who was supposed to be exempted from prosecution because he promptly reported the spill.

Let me suggest the possibility that the EPA officials deliberately and maliciously ordered the halt to the containment for the purposes of creating a large spill. The political motives might have been to prevent the transportation of oil by ship. If this possibility was true, then those who created the disaster "got away" with a hideous crime while a man who obeyed the law was convicted.

You point out that certain types of governmental agencies are (in theory) liable under the law for pollution. Those words are in the law, but are municipalities and other agencies really subjected to the same punishments. Not as far as I can see. I know a company that "spilled" a few drums of oil (probably deliberately) into a creek and was effectively bankrupted by the punishment. On the other hand, the City of Detroit dumped millions of gallons of raw sewage into Lake St. Clair for nearly a full summer without even a court summons. Port Clinton near my house has been in "non-compliance" with regard to its sewage for decades without prosecution. Yet, boats in the Port Clinton harbor are ticketed for having overboard discharge of their toilets used once or twice a year.

Do I expect that government will ever be brought to the standards it sets for the citizenry? No. I'm older and wiser than that. However, I'm still feisty enough that I'm not afraid to speak out against what offends me. A man of my age can be excused for thinking that his government serves him and not the reverse.

These things should offend you, Susan, if you take your job seriously. As a professional you are mocked every time governmental action causes exactly what you strive daily to prevent--and then nobody is called to terms for those actions.

-- David G. Brown
 

Noel F. Jones

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I was citing a judgement in criminal proceedings, not expressing an opinion.

There would have been civil remedies available to the damaged parties which would have impinged, variously, on the insurers of the port authority, the shipowner's P&I Club and the IOPC Compensation Fund. The Fund may have perceived a reverse cause of action against the port authority for negligent handling of the casualty, which again would precipitate bankruptcy. Apropos the Prestige, a similar situation may arise between the Fund and the relevant Spanish government agency. It can get complicated.

Whatever the eventual disposal between the parties, one way or another the environmental damage should be fully recoverable; the IOPC Fund is the ultimate underwriter.

Noel
 
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Susan Leighton

Guest
David,
You are a tough man...and I am beginning to like you. I was kidding about the 'overthrow of the government' (just as I was kidding about my age in my profile). I am a person of some experience in this life too, and therefore I feel the need to respond to your post. Please read my entire response and don't jump to conclusions. I read and re-read your post prior to my reply...So.....from the beginning........
re:
'The Spanish gov't refused a direct request from a ship in distress from safe harbor'...
No port in the world would have allowed this vessel in their harbor under those conditions. Can you imagine that the US would let this ship come in? We would provide search and rescue for the crew and provide assistance in the clean-up effort. Which is what Spain did.

re:Exxon Valdez

The responsibility for the Captain was not limited to his simply'reporting the spill'. He CAUSED the spill by running the ship aground. He was negligent and therefore liable in any court of law.
As to the notion that the EPA deliberately stopped clean-up efforts for political gain...that is preposterous and I hope you know that. The clean-up efforts were halted temporarily in that case, because they were not effective. Nothing could contain that spill and everybody had to stop and think for minute and try to figure out a plan that might limit the spread of the contamination. People just did the best they could...as people will do.

re: 'the company you knew who "spilled" a few drums of oil in a creek and was effectively bankrupt by the punishment'.....

A deliberate discharge to the environment is a serious offense and has serious consequences. Clean-up of such a discharge is also expensive. It is more likely that the company went bankrupt as a result of the clean-up costs and not the civil penalties-which are limited. In Florida, we require owners of hazardous substances storage tanks to demonstrate financial responsibility (i.e. insurance or some other means) to ensure that they can cover the costs associated with the clean-up of an accidental discharge.

re: 'The City of Detroit dumped millions of gallons of raw sewage into Lake St. Clair without even a court summons'

Dumping raw-sewage is quite different from dumping petroleum or other hazardous materials. Sewage can be 'treated' and does not have an adverse effect on the environment per se. A condition like that would affect swimming and recreational activities on the water, but would not have a long term impact on the environment. Also, it is quite common in an industrial society that sanitary sewer systems get cross-connected with other water discharge systems because of all the multiple underground piping systems. The problem can be fixed by attaching the correct cross-connection joint piping...Of course, in a municipality or gov't entity...they have to form a committee, have a meeting, vote on the proposal, submit a bid proposal, accept a bid, then... on and on and on the problem will be fixed. (all of which proves your point about gov't bureaucracy). But that is the way they ensure our tax dollars are used effectivly...they rationalize the budget...and that is very tough on the actual employees who must complete the operation under the 'ever-present' budget restraints.

re: the court summons

That is the LAST resort in an effort to compel compliance with environmental laws and other civil laws. There are laws in place in the US (example 65 MPH speed limit). As an enforcement agency, we EXPECT the law to be complied with, if not, we inspect and issue a warning and ask for compliance. After that, we issue a Notice of Violation and assess penalties in an effort to get the responsible party to comply. Finally, a court summons is issued by a judge which forces compliance or it becomes a criminal matter. We do everything we can to work with the individual and make them aware of the requirements. Some of them (actually very few) refuse to cooperate.

This law regarding regulated storage tanks applies to EVERYONE. This standard applies to local, state, and federal owners and we have special procedures in place to ensure that these facilities are inspected and 'in compliance'. We ensure that these inspections are not a conflict of interest for the inspector and that and penalties are assessed as required. We have had tremendous success in this endeavor and The Florida Administrative Code (FAC)has been heralded as a standard for the country. It works pretty good.

I, personally, will not issue a violation notification--without also providing a solution to the problem.

FINALLY,...
No government action or inaction CAUSED the spill associated with the sinking of the Prestige. An old, dilapidated tanker ship broke apart and spilled parts of its guts. That's what CAUSED the spill. I have been conducting accident investigations for almost twenty years and it boils down to actual cause-and-effect. "What caused the[discharge] oil to come out of its container?... and... What was the effect of the discharge?...and...How can we clean it up?" Those are the questions that can be answered. I will say that I do not support the claim that the crew is to blame, and I think they will be vindicated.

Regarding whether I take my job seriously...I think you know I DO......but I don't take myself seriously. I find that to to be a good balance. Even now... as I speak (or write)... Barry Manilow is singing "Happy Holidays" (on TV) on the square in NYC in anticipation of the lighting of the tree at Rockefeller Center.

Susan Y. Leighton
 
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I saw some short actual video clipses from the "Prestige" (man, what a name...) done from board a submersible. She looses oil steadily and the oil keeps being fluid even in that depth. That means that the ecological disaster will stay for many years.

Mankind will never learn, not from Exxon Valdez and not from Prestige. My daughter now is four years old. I am sure she will hear news like them when she is an old lady.

One year after the Titanic sinking they started building passenger ships with double hulls. Why not the oil tankers even in 2002? Hey, we exactly know why they don´t...

Best regards Henning

P.S. Is it true that the Prestige lays in about the same depth as the Titanic lays?
 
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John Meeks

Guest
Well,

It would seem that my earlier concerns about long-term damage through leaching of the oil from the vessel in question are already proving to be reasonably well founded! I suppose we now have to 'wait and see' what happens. Like Henning - I think we already know...

I'm also getting, in my old age, rather tired of arguments purporting to claim that 'private enterprise' (presumably a God in its own right...) apparently holds higher standards and is more aware of its accountability than 'Government' (which we all know is a god)

I would add at this point that I am more than aware that 'Government' is more than capable of trampling roughtrod over us all - indeed, seems to make a habit of it! (Strangely, in my long experience, it does seem to be conservative administrations who excel in this regard, though...!)

In my observation, though, there doesn't really seem to be a half-penny's worth of damn between either of 'em! Power seems to be power, whoever you are! And the ability to flee from accountability appears to be solely based upon the resources available, whoever you are.

As David points out, the Spanish Government has a substantial degree of accountability in the sad outcome of this affair. However, as Susan points out - it wasn't their ageing, badly maintained tanker...

As for private enterprise....

My wife works at a local, very large and prestigious local shopping mall. Over the last two days sewage has been backing up the pipes and flooded the computer department of her store. The owner of the mall had these defects pointed out to him over a year ago but he never did a damned thing. Apparently he didn't want to lay out the money to rectify the problem.

This is not a 'mom and pop' grocery store, but a multi-million dollar a year retail enterprise. It is now Christmas.....

Private enterprise, my eye! As Henning correctly asked, "When will they ever learn?" (Or was it Marlene Dietrich....or...?)

Regards, Comrades

John M
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Henning, as Dave pointed out, a double hull would have made no difference whatever in this case as the Prestige broke up. Had the ship been granted safe harbour by the Spanish government, the outcome would have been very different. Now a problem has gone from irritating to something much worse.
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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Henning, Prestige lies in almost the same depth as Titanic. She's in about 3,600 metres as against just under 4,000.

They might have built a few double hull ships after 1912, but that soon stopped for very good reasons. There's the corrosion problem and there are very serious problems with stability in the event of one hull being opened up. Somebody once said that for every problem there is an answer that is simple, obvious and wrong. Enthusiasm for double hulls and longitudinal bulkheads is misplaced. The real problem is owners who make Bruce Ismay look like Mother Teresa.
 

Noel F. Jones

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May 14, 2002
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Since the Prestige casualty several littoral nations have intimated an intention to proscribe the 'free and innocent' passage of single hull tankships in their waters (it is not clear how this proscription is going to be applied when they actually want a cargo of crude).

As has been pointed out in this forum, doubling the hulls of tankships provides limited protection against pollution incidents and subtends its own problems as to draft and stability in the damaged condition.

Greater protection would be provided by proscribing those older vessels which rely on a single boiler, engine, screw and rudder. Tankships are broad enough in the beam to allow for all such to be doubled, with each engine room able to function independent of the other.

Such a specification for new tonnage would surpass double hulls in reducing and managing casualties and at an acceptable cost margin, given the relative values of cargo and carrier. Prescribed routeing would further contribute, allied of course with stringently regulated seaworthiness in terms of maintenance and manning.

Specific to Prestige: there is a conjecture that she listed against an isolated fender amidships while serving as a static store ship. This caused a local latent weakness in the plating leading to the lateral notching of the 'ship girder' and its catastrophic failure in heavy seas. The above rationale notwithstanding, a double hull cannot other than contribute to the strength of the ship girder and, in this specific respect, the Prestige casualty and its environmental consequences might indeed have been prevented.

Noel