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Friday, January 19, 2018

Open Session - ‘In the Aftermath of the Prestige’

Chaired by Jim Lawrence, MTI Network (USA) Inc, INTERTANKO’s Open Session ‘In the Aftermath of the Prestige’ yielded four key themes: presentation of facts of the incident, political reactions, media response and general risk management.

The Chairman in his opening remarks said that once again a high-profile incident had raised doubts about the soundness of the regulatory and operational framework in which we worked. Unfortunately the reaction at the political level to the Prestige and the public outcry had been guided by emotion rather than rationality. This had resulted in a loss of realism in the proposals for regulatory reform and in major incidents such as the Prestige reconfirming old prejudices of substandard operations.

The session started with a compelling narrative from Mr Stephen Askins of Ince & Co, who has acted as the press spokesman for the owner of the Prestige. Addressing the Prestige accident, he summarised the chronology of the events prior to and after the first ingress of water and the challenges that the media interest presented. He informed that the media response had two very distinct phases. The first phase was the ‘breaking story’ when the press were clamouring for information with some journalists paying little regard to accuracy. The second was the investigation phase after the vessel had sunk when the trade press, in particular, tried hard to find the cause of the accident. Discussion from the floor questioned the practicality of small companies having a permanent in-house media spokesman.

Captain John Nixon of Smit International

spoke of the facts leading to the sinking of the Prestige from a salvor’s point of view. He described the events from the from the time of the arrival of the first tug when the Prestige was drifting towards the Spanish coastline to the final hours before the vessel sank. He informed that the salvors had been accused of self-interest by the Spanish authorities and three requests for a place of refuge in which to transfer the oil had been refused. Captain Nixon gave a short overview of possible methods of removing oil from the sunken sections of the Prestige. Concluding, he said that some lessons had been learnt and the Salvage Union had produced a ten-point plan which would hopefully be implemented to improve safety around European and other waters.

Dr Nikos Mikelis of Paralos Maritime Corp

explained that on closer study of a number of photographs, he had come to the conclusion that the initial damage to the Prestige had probably not centred on frame 71 (bulkhead between tanks#3 and #2A) but somewhere towards the middle of the side shell of tank #3 (around frame 65). Consequently he suggested that fatigue failure of the side shell and its supporting structure had been the original cause.

The sequence of failure, he believed, would have been an initial crack in the side shell, which opened under wave local panting pressures. The initial fatigue cracking could have been caused by a lack of continuity of the internal structure. An additional contribution could possibly have been poor detailed design associated with low fatigue life, or maybe a latent defect.

At its meeting on 7 April INTERTANKO’s Council adopted, as a practical measure following the loss of the Prestige, a requirement for members to have in place an Emergency Response arrangement for damage stability from 1 January 2004.

Mr Chris Horrocks of the International Chamber of Shipping

opened byoutlining the differences between the political responses to the Erika and the Prestige incidents. He said that the European Commission had unquestionably reacted aggressively when the Erika incident had happened but European ministries had been more hesitant to take regional action. However, come the Prestige incident, the European ministries were demanding even more than the European Commission was proposing at that time. There was no inclination to work through IMO and we saw not only regional but also national reaction (with no market analysis) and the rise of political opportunism, in particular in France and Spain. Another political outfall was the conflict with international treaties namely UNCLOS and MARPOL. Mr Horrocks described the disregard of UNCLOS obligations by several coastal states and the sad lack of protest it evoked. He said that the EU proposals were in contradiction with MARPOL and putEU member states legally on a collision course with previously agreed MARPOL measures. Concluding he said that whether the world succumbed to the EU proposals or resisted Europe, the consequence was that in either case the IMO had been weakened.

Mr Robert D. Somerville of American Bureau of Shipping

spoke of the need for an open and cooperative approach if the industry was to identify and implement appropriate changes to its operations and standards. His presentation entitled 'A Need For Action: It's Time To Work Together" highlighted that changed circumstances now demanded a step-change response from the industry. He said that ABS were assessing how they could best meet these new expectations but they could not be effective without the support of the industry. He believed that every sector of the industry - owners, managers, class societies, charterers and flag states - must all take a step back and assess the changed realities under which we were operating. He emphasized that together the industry could work proactively with the key government entities that assume regulatory power over our actions. We could recognize that their goal of pollution-free transport of oil was no different to ours. And by so doing we could survive and prosper within a safer, more open and respected industry.

Captain David Robinson of Teekay Shipping (Canada) Ltd

summarised some of the changes shipowners had seen since the Prestige incident – the banning of single-hulled tankers carrying fuel oil; increased attention to the structural issues during vetting inspections; the reluctance of oil companies to charter older single-hulled vessels; increased transparency of class/flag state records; re-routeing of vessels 200 miles off coastlines; the accelerated phase-out of single-hulled vessels and not least adverse industry publicity. He said that Teekay Shipping had embedded risk management into their polices, procedures and processes and they believed that only through effective risk management would we be able to avoid further incidents like the Prestige. In concluding he said it would be nice if the 2000s could be remembered for risk management in the same way as the 1990s were remembered for quality management.