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Saturday, October 20, 2018

INTERTANKO at European Commission workshop on double-hull tankers

One of the side effects of the political discussions on tanker safety in Brussels in recent years has been an increased focus on the potential safety hazards related to double hulls. An indicator of this increased political concern can be seen i.a. from the European Parliament’s call last September (Ref. the “Sterckx Report”) for the Commission to look further into safety issues for double-hull tankers.

Since the delivery of the first double-hull tankers more than a decade ago, the industry has gained considerable knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of such vessels in terms of design, construction, operation and maintenance, as well as in terms of inspection and class. It was therefore natural for INTERTANKO, together with other industry bodies, to offer its close cooperation when the European Commission started to plan for an industry workshop on double-hull tankers.

The workshop took place in Brussels on 7 November 2003 (click here for the programme) and gathered together an impressive group of high level industry representatives including shipowners, class and shipyard representatives. Several European flag states, representatives from the US and Japan, as well as the IMO were present, together with leading academics in the field.

As the first industry speaker, INTERTANKO was invited to set the scene for the discussions. INTERTANKO and the industry speakers who followed all delivered consistent messages to the Commission representatives and other decision-makers present:

  1. Statistics show that the majority of oil spill accidents involving tankers are caused by collisions and groundings. These are the sort of accidents where double hulls might offer more adequate protection.
  2. Despite the fact that the European Commission, as well as other decision-makers and politicians, appear only now to have come to the realisation that the construction, operation and inspection of double hulls may produce unknown challenges, the industry has been aware of the strengths and weaknesses of these vessels for a long time and has acted accordingly.
  3. Where there do exist issues of continuing concern, these challenges appear far from insurmountable. Over the past decade the industry as a whole has acquired a wealth of knowledge and experience in operating double-hull tankers. There are, however, several aspects in relation to which more research and development (R&D) would be beneficial.
  4. Tankers in general, and large double-hull tankers in particular, are immense and complex steel structures. The problems confronting inspectors due to the sheer size of the ship and the difficult accessibility to critical areas are far more acute than any problem of an insufficient number of inspections. In other words, there is probably a greater potential to make safety improvements by refining existing protection and maintenance, as well as inspection techniques and technology in the current fleet, than by increasing the number and type of inspections to be undertaken (CAS inclusive).
  5. The issue of Permanent Means of Access (PMA) is crucial. However, the new rules as adopted by the IMO are not practical and represent a real safety threat to personnel. They should be amended accordingly.

It seemed clear from the outset that the European Commission had mixed objectives for the workshop. On the one hand, the Commission wanted to stage a discussion between experts (i.e. shipowners, class, academics and regulators) so that aspects in need of further research could be identified. For such projects there might be EU R&D funds available (see below). On the other hand, the Commission wished to learn about and identify problems related to double hulls, which could in turn indicate a need for future regulatory initiatives at either international (IMO) and/or regional (EU) level.

In its summing up of the seminar, the European Commission listed a number of subject areas within which EU R&D funding could be channelled to double hull-related R&D (both within the current 5th and the forthcoming 6th R&D framework programmes). Topics ranged from developing better risk-based assessment and design procedures by fatigue analysis and research on "smart structures and materials," all the way to development of ROV (remotely operated vessels) -based surveys and inspection techniques.

The Commission also emphasised that the workshop had provided useful input for the Commission to develop coordinated European input to the IMO's forthcoming debates, notably on the development of so-called “goal based standards” (for newbuildings), as suggested by the Bahamas and Greece earlier this year.

Contacts: Dragos Rauta and Peter Swift