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Thursday, September 20, 2018


The Supreme Court of the United States has issued an unanimous ruling upholding the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners’ (“INTERTANKO’s”) challenge to Washington State regulations affecting tank vessel traffic in that State. The opinion of the Court, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, found that the State of Washington erred in enacting legislation in an area where a federal interest overcomes disparate State and local efforts to regulate vessels.

INTERTANKO had argued to the Supreme Court that the individual states of the United States had no Constitutional right to regulate matters of vessel design, construction, alteration, repair, maintenance, operation, equipping, personnel qualifications and manning. 

The Court invalidated on their face four Washington State regulations that govern such matters as crew training requirements, English language proficiency requirements, manning requirements relating to the number of licensed officers required on the bridge, and casualty reporting requirements. Consideration of the remaining Washington State regulations was remanded to lower federal courts for a disposition consistent with the Supreme Court’s ruling.  Westye Hoegh, Chairman of INTERTANKO, praised the Court’s ruling: “This is a major statement from the United States that it will continue to play a leadership role in vessel safety and marine environmental protection.” Mr. Hoegh also pointed out that “the decision to challenge the Washington State regulations back in 1995 was unusual in an industry association context, but that the tremendous upside in terms of continued application of uniform international maritime standards in the US was not lost on the members of the INTERTANKO Council.” He further added: “This also confirms our belief that rules for safety and operations of shipping should be strict and international.”  Dagfinn Lunde, the organisation’s Managing Director said that “the Supreme Court vindicates INTERTANKO’s position that uniform national and international regulation is essential for marine safety. We are very pleased with the result. The result is gratifying and , INTERTANKO is also delighted that the international maritime industry found its voice and stood together on these important points of principle. A number of international organisations and governments of maritime nations came to the support of INTERTANKO. Their input was important and appreciated. The net result is a benefit for our vessels, our crews and the marine environment.”  Mr. Lunde also expressed gratitude for the excellent work by INTERTANKO’s legal team and Mr. Jonathan Benner in particular saying that “Jonathan Benner deserves a lot of credit for the positive outcome of this case, without him this outcome would not have been possible.”  The INTERTANKO litigation was initiated in July 1995 when the State of Washington imposed regulations on vessel design, construction, crew qualification, equipment and manning requirements for tankers trading to Washington State. INTERTANKO challenged the Washington State regulations in federal district court in Seattle alleging that such actions by the State interfered with federal and international regulatory requirements governing tank vessels.  
Svein Ringbakken, INTERTANKO’s General Counsel and U.S. representative, commented that although the legal basis for the INTERTANKO challenge had been Constitutional, the underlying concern was always the safety of tank vessels and prevention of oil spills. INTERTANKO has long championed high safety and environmental protection standards for tankers operating all around the world. Mr. Ringbakken stated that “the matter went far beyond Washington State to other states in the United States and other nations around the world. INTERTANKO’s objective of raising international marine safety standards could not be met had the United States permitted the states and municipalities to take themselves out of commitments the U.S. has made in international fora to improving vessel standards.”  When the matter was reviewed by the district court in Seattle, INTERTANKO’s objections to the Washington State regulations were dismissed summarily. On appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, INTERTANKO succeeded in obtaining a finding that the State of Washington requirement for onboard vessel navigational and towing equipment was Constitutionally invalid. However, the Court of Appeals upheld the balance of the Washington State Regulatory regime. In the Spring 1999 both INTERTANKO and the United States petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States to take review of the Ninth Circuit’s decision. Arguments were held in December of 1999. The Court’s unanimous decision issued on 6 March 2000 stated “the State of Washington has enacted legislation in an area where the federal interest has been manifest since the beginning of our Republic and is now well-established.”   A major battle for the international maritime safety conventions has been won. 
Questions about this case may be directed to: 

For more information contact:
Mr. Dagfinn Lunde
Tel: +47 22122650

Svein Ringbakken
Tel: +1 (202) 659 6631

Jonathan Benner
Tel: + 1 (202) 659 6656
Further details of the Supreme Court’s ruling can be found at
Legal Information Institute (LII)