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Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Tale Of Eight Jetties: The Search For Adequate European Reception Facilities

The Short Sea Tanker Group of the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (INTERTANKO), at its most recent meeting, analysed a voyage made by one of the member's tankers active in the European shortsea trades to highlight the persistent lack of adequate shore reception facilities in the region. The Short Sea Tanker Group met in Brussels on 13 October on the occasion of INTERTANKO's Brussels Tanker Event.

Many tanker operators are active in the European short trades, and the region is well-known for its highly professional, very competitive and extremely efficient shipping services. Theoretically, the European shortsea trades should also be a thoroughly environment-friendly activity, due to the sophisticated nature of tanker design and operation, the power of the environmental lobby and the strict regulatory regime that is in place. After having been instrumental in its creation, European nations have ratified the 1973/78 Marine Pollution (MARPOL) Convention which specifies, amongst other things, that signatories must provide adequate shore reception facilities for shipboard wastes. Unfortunately, as the Short Sea Tanker Group proved when analysing a recent actual tanker voyage (highlighted below), many European nations have not fulfilled their obligation to provide adequate reception facilities. This has compromised the environmental performance of tankers in the European trades.

During a port call at Milford Haven on 20 August 1998 the tanker Green Spirit sought to deliver its engine room sludge to a shore reception facility. However, there was no response to this request from the terminal at which the ship was berthed. Green Spirit then proceeded to Belfast in Northern Ireland, where the master was told that an expensive and time-consuming shift to a different berth within the port would enable the sludge to be discharged ashore. However, profit margins are low and time is precious in the European shortsea trades. As the ship was to proceed direct to Norway, home country of the "World Environmental Queen", Gro Harlem Brundtland, it was decided to hold onto the sludge until then. No doubt the small port of Sola on the south west coast of Norway would have prime facilities to receive the heavy sludge.

On arrival in Sola on 29 August, Green Spirit was informed by the shore terminal that no reception facilities were available. The master was not discouraged, however, because the next port of call was Mongstad, location of a modern oil refinery and terminal complex that was so expensive to build, that the first Statoil MD had to resign his position. At the Mongstad terminal, that is promoted as an "Enviromental Leader", Green Spirit was told that delivery of the sludge ashore would have to take place after cargo loading and bunkering had been completed. Bunkering started late on 2 September, and was completed around midnight. This was not unusual as shipboard life in the shortsea oil trades often means working around the clock. At this point, however, the terminal announced that it would be unable to receive the sludge ashore. Difficulties were being experienced in connecting the shoreside loading arm and the hose "because the ship was too deeply loaded". Receiving this information too late to take any remedial action, the ship's crew reported that the response seemed to be pure delaying tactics on the part of the terminal.

Next port of call for Green Spirit was West Thurrock on the River Thames in the UK - not all oil ports are big, well-known names. Arriving on the night of 5 September, the tanker was told once again that there were no appropriate reception facilities available. The ship did not fare much better the next day because, after a move along the river to the Coryton refinery, the master was informed that, at that time, no suitable facilities were available at the terminal itself. The master was faced with two options - either discharge the sludge to a barge, an expensive alternative, or wait until the next port of call - an oil terminal on the Hamble Estuary near Southampton - where his ship was due in a few days. Something would have to be done soon as the volume of sludge was mounting.

As it turned out, it did not matter very much that Green Spirit would have been unable to discharge the engine room waste ashore at the Hamble terminal, again due to the much-quoted "lack of available facilities". As often happens in the tanker business, the master was given new orders and told to sail direct to Rotterdam, the largest tanker port in the world, from the River Thames. After being informed that there were no sludge-handling facilities at the particular Rotterdam terminal to which Green Spirit was destined, the tanker's agent organised for a barge to be brought alongside when she arrived in port. Eventually, 19 days after the first attempt to discharge the waste ashore, the tanker pumped 15 cubic metres of engine room sludge at a price of $ 7,000 to a Rotterdam slop barge.

As one of the key contributors to its development, INTERTANKO fully supports the European Commission's new draft Directive on Reception Facilities for Ship-generated Wastes and Cargo Residues. It is hoped that implementation of the initiative will facilitate the operation of tankers in the European shortsea trades by providing adequate reception facilities in all relevant oil ports at reasonable cost and in a manner which encourages their use. Too often, shortsea tanker operators have met with evasion tactics and exorbitant costs when seeking to deliver engine room sludge and other MARPOL wastes ashore.