Incheon, Republic of Korea, August 2018 – The world’s biggest oil spill at sea in decades, early this year off the coast of China, was met with a speedy response thanks to timely information exchange, according to the maritime authorities of the countries exposed to the environmental disaster, who spoke at a United Nations meeting on marine pollution response preparedness.
An online marine pollution reporting system (POLREP) – set up by the UN Environment Programme Action Plan for the Protection, Management and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the Northwest Pacific Region (NOWPAP) – enabled China, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation to speedily share information on the spreading spill and measures taken to contain it.
The January 2018 sinking, 160 nautical miles off Shanghai, of the oil tanker ‘Sanchi’, loaded with 136,000 tons of condensate, was the world’s largest marine pollution incident since the March 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska, in the United States of America.
Looking back on the response to the Sanchi spill, the four NOWPAP Member States emphasized the importance of real-time information exchange on the spill between countries and with the NOWPAP Marine Environmental Emergency Preparedness and Response Regional Activity Centre (MERRAC).
Speaking at the Twenty-first NOWPAP MERRAC Focal Points Meeting and The Thirteenth Competent National Authorities Meeting for the NOWPAP Regional Oil and HNS Spill Contingency Plan, held from 17 to 20 July in Incheon, representatives of NOWPAP member countries praised the platform for allowing them to share regular updates on the location of the spill, the condition of the tanker and the status of ongoing and planned response measures. The timely information and support provided by the Japanese and Korean maritime authorities facilitated the China Maritime Safety Administration (MSA) response to the spill.
This was the first time POLREP, tested regularly in RCP communications exercises, was used in a real incident. POLREP was developed by the NOWPAP Regional Oil and Hazardous and Noxious Substances (HNS) Spill Contingency Plan (RCP).
“Although the accident occurred outside the geographical scope of the NOWPAP region, the RCP was not activated in response to the incident. However, thanks to the trust built under the RCP mechanism, NOWPAP member states began a timely exchange of information,” said an official from the MSA , acting as China’s Focal Point to MERRAC.
“NOWPAP has proved to be an effective platform for exchanging information in real time, helping build a solid foundation for cooperation among NOWPAP member states,” said MERRAC Director Mr. Seong-Gil Kang.
Mr. Roel Hoenders of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) said the high number of messages – 254 in total – exchanged during the Sanchi incident showed the importance of an effective information sharing platform.
The Northwest Pacific, crossed by the world’s busiest shipping lanes, has seen nearly 300 spill incidents of more than 10 tons between 1990 and 2016, most of them close to the shores of NOWPAP Member States. Half of these were near the Korean Peninsula and most of the rest near Chinese and Japanese coasts. Oil spills of 10 to 50 tons were most common, accounting for 122 incidents and there were five spills of over 1,000 tons. Five oil spills of over 10 tons took place near the Japanese and Korean coasts in 2017.