Oil Spills and International Marine Environmental Law
The world’s coastal waters are becoming harmful for both humans and other living organisms due to oil spills. Oil spills have become common activities in the oceans owing to offshore oil production as well as shipping activities. Oils spills are not the only form of marine pollution, as other sources, such as radioactive substances, plastics, persistent toxins, and sediments destroy the marine environment more than oil spills. Oil spills have grave consequences on the marine environment, hence, the need to have marine environmental laws. To protect human health, in addition to safeguarding the natural environment from pollution, international bodies have come up with regulations and established treaties to guide on the exploitation of seawaters, as well as compensating victims of oil pollution.
International Law Documents on Marine Environmental Pollution
The quest to safeguard the marine environment from numerous incidences of oil spills led to the signing of treaties and conventions in various international conferences. The Geneva Conventions of 1958 incorporated the provisions concerning environmental protection, particularly in oceans, where oil pollution occurs through leakages from oil pipelines or in the course of continental shelf operations. Many provisions made from the Geneva Conventions matched the customary international law with regard to the high sea. The convention on the High Sea (CHS) classified the high seas as parts of the sea that are excluded from the internal waters. Article 24 of the Convention necessitates states to institute national legislation to safeguard the marine environment from pollution originating from cargo ships, oil pipelines, and seabed activities.
The Civil Liability Convention, which was adopted in 1969, ensured that people who suffer from oil pollution damage are compensated adequately, and that the liability for oil pollution rest on the owners of the ships that are involved in the oil spills. The Convention (also known as CLC 1969) imposed strict and limited liability on registered ship-owners, in addition too compelling them to have compulsory insurance mechanisms to assist in paying for damages. The Convention catered for pollution damage that occurs out of persistent spillage of oil within a territory of a member party.
The 1972 Stockholm Conference, which focused on the human environment made a declaration that states shall undertake all possible steps to ensure that pollution is eradicated in the global waters. According to Schiffman, the UN organized the Stockholm Conference after the US and other industrialized states raised concerns on pollution, population growth, as well as destruction of natural resources. The Stockholm Declaration initiated specific attempts to deal with conservation issues at different levels. Principle 7 of the Declaration commands states to take necessary measures to avert pollution in seas by regulating substances perceived to be injurious to human health and marine life.
The struggle to conserve the marine environment was boosted by the UN in 1982 when the international agency convened its members at Montego Bay, Jamaica. The UN helped in the establishment of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which offered general provisions on marine protection. The Convention underlined the need to reach an agreement on solving issues on pollution within the regional level. Agenda 21 was a program of action meant for sustainable development, based on the agreement reached at the Earth Summit that was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The summit, which was also prepared by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), underlined the need to tackle environmental and development matters amicably. Chapter 17 of Agenda 21 stressed on the need for states to protect marine environment from activities such as offshore oil and gas exploration, which cause pollution.
International Liability for Oil Pollution
Although there exist numerous regulations aimed at offering safety standards to prevent oil pollution, oil spills are still occurring in the global waters as if there are no rules to penalize the polluters. One of the areas that suffer most from the effects of oil spillage is the shoreline. Spilled oil is extremely lethal to animals, birds, and other marine life. They cause death by inhibiting normal feeding habits, in addition to blocking respiratory systems of ocean wildlife, as well as other living organisms at the seashore. The damage caused by oil spills is erratic and may not depend on the magnitude of the spills, but rather on the vulnerability of an area.
Although the number of oil spills by large tankers has gone down over the years, the repercussions of oil spills are quite devastating for the affected local economies. The global trade in oil is expected to rise due to high demand, and this has increased the potential to create more harm in seawaters. However, the possibility of encountering oil pollution due to the carriage of enormous quantities of oil, the liability, as well as compensation for oil pollution, is well regulated through international legal and liability regime.
The need for international guidelines led to the establishment of international conventions to discuss how polluters should be compelled to make financial compensation to the victims of oil pollution. The CLC 1969 made the ships’ owners liable for any damage resulting from oil pollution, in addition to obliging them to have compulsory insurance cover. Through the convention, oil-carrying ships are required to compensate victims of oil pollution within the territory of the states that are members to the convention. The Convention is acceptable within the member states. However, when the damage occurs outside the CLC member states, such damage is not covered.
Oil spills are exceedingly expensive to clean up, and can pose a financial disaster to the affected companies, local governments, and states. States are compelled to place barriers on the shorelines to prevent people from accessing beaches. Most activities along the beaches are stopped to prevent loss of lives from oil pollution. People who sustain their lives through fishing are forced to look for other alternatives of earning a living after oil spills. Property value is also affected by oil spills, as investors would not invest in areas that are experiencing loss of vegetation and human settlement. Sea transport is vastly affected by oil spills, as the floating oil spoil boats and other vessels. Fishing nets cannot function effectively when they dipped in oily water.
To claim for damage caused by oil pollution, the claimant must demonstrate a quantifiable economic loss by producing accounting records or any other evidence that indicates loss from oil pollution. Compensation can be paid on clean-up operations, property loss, as well as loss of livelihood from fishing and tourism activities. Individuals, business owners, and local communities are entitled for compensation, as long as they are located within the CLC member states. However, claimants cannot sue for damages made by non-commercial vessels owned by states, as CLC only covers for commercial vessels owned by companies within the member states.
Although the CLC 1969 offered a vital mechanism for compensation, it failed to offer adequate compensation for all legal cases of oil pollution. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) came up with the FUND Convention in 1971 to supplement the CLC 1969, as well as relive ship owners the financial burden. The adoption of the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage (also known as 2001 BOPC) was also meant to facilitate for liability and compensation based on bunker oil pollution resulting from all types of sea-going carriers, other than oil tankers. The 2001 BOPC imposes harsh but restricted liability for the damage from pollution on the ship-owner while claimants are awarded rights to take action against the ship’s insurer.
Marine environment has suffered enormously due to oil spills, leading to serious consequences on social and economic activities along the coastlines. A major oil spill poses a severe impact on people’s livelihoods as well as on the environment. However, steps to combat oil pollution resulting from ocean transport have already been taken by international agencies. Numerous treaties and conventions have helped in laying down rules that guides on oil pollution and its international implications. The Conventions, such as the CLC 1969 and 2001 BOPC have offered a platform where victims of oil pollution can make claims for compensation. The CLC member states have to carry the burden of paying damages to victims of pollution to discourage oil spills.
“International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage (FUND).” International Maritime Organization (2016). http://www.imo.org/en/About/Conventions/ListOfConventions/Pages/International-Convention-on-the-Establishment-of-an-International-Fund-for-Compensation-for-Oil-Pollution-Damage-(FUND).aspx (accessed 13 July 2016).
“Liability and Compensation for Ship-Source Oil Pollution: An Overview of the International Legal Framework for Oil Pollution Damage from Tankers.” UNCTAD (2012).
Anyanova, Ekaterina. Oil pollution and international marine environmental law. Rijeka, Croatia: INTECH Open Access Publisher, 2012.
Godlund, Josefin, Annika Nilsson, and Elena Fuchs. “Are The Current International Regulations Sufficient Enough To Combat Marine Pollution (Focus On Oil Pollution) Caused By Shipping Activities?.” (2015).
Hui, Wang. Civil Liability for Marine Oil Pollution Damage: A Comparative and Economic Study of the International, US and the Chinese Compensation Regime. Rotterdam: Erasmus Universiteit, 2010.
Schiffman, Howard S. “International Law and the Protection of the Marine Environment.” International Sustainable Development Law-Volume I (2010): 306.
Tillio Treves. “1958 Geneva Conventions on the Law of the Sea.” Audiovisual Library of International Law, April 29,1958. http://legal.un.org/avl/ha/gclos/gclos.html (accessed 13 July 2016).
 Tillio Treves. “1958 Geneva Conventions on the Law of the Sea.” Audiovisual Library of International Law, April 29, 1958. http://legal.un.org/avl/ha/gclos/gclos.html (accessed 13 July 2016).
 Wang Hui, Civil Liability for Marine Oil Pollution Damage: A Comparative and Economic Study of the International, US and the Chinese Compensation Regime. (Rotterdam: Erasmus Universiteit, 2010), 3.
 Howard S. Schiffman, “International Law and the Protection of the Marine Environment.” International Sustainable Development Law-Volume I (2010): 306.
 Ekaterina Anyanova, Oil pollution and international marine environmental law. (Rijeka, Croatia: INTECH Open Access Publisher, 2012), 32-33.
 Josefin, Godlund, Annika Nilsson, and Elena Fuchs. “Are The Current International Regulations Sufficient Enough To Combat Marine Pollution (Focus On Oil Pollution) Caused By Shipping Activities?.” (2015), 14.
 “International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage (FUND).” International Maritime Organization (2016). http://www.imo.org/en/About/Conventions/ListOfConventions/Pages/International-Convention-on-the-Establishment-of-an-International-Fund-for-Compensation-for-Oil-Pollution-Damage-(FUND).aspx (accessed 13 July 2016).
 “Liability and Compensation for Ship-Source Oil Pollution: An Overview of the International Legal Framework for Oil Pollution Damage from Tankers.” UNCTAD (2012).