The safe operation of oil tankers in the maritime industry

1. Introduction

The safe operation of oil tankers in the maritime industry is vital for not only protecting the marine environment, but also for ensuring a safe and secure transportation of this essential commodity that fuels the global economy. The pollution from oil tanker operation has caused major disastrous environmental impacts such as the infamous “Exxon Valdez” and more recently the “Prestige” incident in Spain. The former spilled over 11 million gallons of crude oil in Alaska, causing a devastating effect on the local environment and marine life. The latter spilled over 20 million gallons of oil and big areas of the Spanish coastline, important sea areas for marine life, major fishery resources including shellfish, and also tourism had been severely affected. It is apparent that significant work has been carried out in enhancing the security mechanism of oil tanker operation as well as oil pollution prevention. Nonetheless, assessing the human element in the operation process including the crew organization and cooperation and also the competency of the oil tanker crews becomes a crucial element in ensuring the desirable safety level and reliability of the whole operation process. In light of the above, this discussion will focus on the operation process of oil tanker from the shore base to on board and while the oil tanker is at sea. I will identify, examine, and analyze the existing operation safety and security mechanism in place. The factors that contribute to the safety and reliability of oil tanker operation will be explored and the effectiveness and adequacy of the safety and security measures will be evaluated. Last but not least, from the analysis, areas for improvement will be identified and discussed. This will include potential policies and procedures alterations and more importantly, possible technological and equipment enhancement aspiration in the hope of continuously improving the safety and reliability of the oil tanker operation.

1.1 Background

Over the past decades, the maritime industry has developed to become a sophisticated and multi-faceted industry that transports the bulk of the world’s cargo. Many changes have occurred both in the structure of the industry and in the manner in which trade is conducted. One of the major developments in recent years has been the increasing demand for long distance transport of crude oil and its by-products. In response to this demand, the world fleet of tankers and the volume of oil that is transported has steadily increased. As a result, there has been a significant rise in the number of major oil pollution incidents worldwide. This has led to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) introducing a series of conventions and protocols during the 1970s, 80s and 90s, culminating in the introduction of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships and the associated MARPOL regulations. These measures have not only introduced stricter regulations in relation to the design and operation of oil tankers, but have also provided increased powers of inspection and control for the authorities. This article aims to discuss the safe operation of oil tankers in the maritime industry, covering the regulatory framework, safety measures and the future challenges in the industry.

1.2 Problem Statement

The oil and gas industry is one of the biggest in the world. According to the Oil & Gas Journal, the industry needs to put into production over 100 billion barrels – but at what cost? With offshore oil and gas production increasing around the globe, the task of maintaining the safety of expanding operations is becoming more difficult. In this growing industry, the safe transfer of crude oil from oil rigs to production vessels and then on to shore base is imperative, and the industry has turned to the maritime industry to provide safe and cost-effective tools and solutions. There are three main methods of moving oil from an offshore production site to an onshore site, and this research has focused on using tankers. However, in the last year, there have been a range of problems reported – from small-scale issues, like the incorrect labeling of valves, to massive spills from loading hoses. This brings about the issue and concern over the safety and security in the transfer of crude oil using tankers. The impact of oil industry-related liquid and gas incidents can be severe; they can cause toxic air or water pollution and endanger workers and marine life. However, the incidents that happen on oil and gas facilities worldwide are as much as 250 times more costly in terms of lost production. But what is meant by ‘safety’ in this context? From a perspective of a study of engineering and health, safety, and environment, an offshore operation can be classified as safe if ‘as low as reasonably practicable’ or ALARP is performed and maintained. ALARP is a Health and Safety practice used in the industry and a method of risk assessment. This is a key tenet in offshore drilling and production – that the operation must minimize risk to an appropriate level, balancing the effort and expenditure used.

1.3 Objectives

The academic research aims to investigate the safe operation of oil tankers with a focus on the regulatory framework, safety measures, and operational challenges in the maritime industry. The objectives of the research are threefold. First, it seeks to identify gaps and weaknesses in the existing regulatory framework for oil tankers by reviewing the literature and analyzing the best practices in the industry. This is important because the regulatory framework is instrumental in ensuring the safe operation of oil tankers. Second, the research aims to provide a critical overview of the different safety measures along the oil tanker operational chain. In particular, the effectiveness of these measures and their impacts on the safe operation of oil tankers will be examined. This includes but is not limited to crew training, navigation and collision avoidance, cargo handling and stability, fire prevention and control, and emergency response and contingency planning. Third, the research will provide insights on the various technological advancements that are currently changing the landscape of oil tankers’ safe operations. This includes the use of double hull or new alternative designs, enhanced navigational tools, cyber-physical systems, and innovative methods in detecting and combating oil spills. The research is expected to contribute to the existing literature on maritime law, shipping, and to provide valuable information to policymakers and industry stakeholders on how to further enhance the safe operation of oil tankers. The findings of the research can be used as references for developing, updating, and refining the regulatory frameworks and safety enhancement solutions in the maritime industry.

2. Regulatory Framework for Oil Tankers

The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) is the main international convention covering prevention of pollution of the marine environment by ships from operational or accidental causes. It is a combination of two treaties adopted in 1973 and 1978 respectively, and supplemented by four ever-increasing technical annexes and two protocols of 1978 and 1997 and has been ratified by 150 countries, representing 98.7% per cent of the world’s merchant shipping tonnage. But what is most important, especially for environmental protection in general and when it comes to pollution caused mainly by oil spills from ships, are its Annexes. Annex I Regulations for the Prevention of Pollution by Oil is one of the most important international treaties for prevention of pollution of the marine environment. Basically every oil tanker with gross tonnage of 150 and above engaging in international voyages must be surveyed and certificated for compliance with the requirements of MARPOL 73/78, and such survey and certification must be conducted under the authority of the government of the port state where the ship is located. By providing detailed mandatory requirements Annex I introduced a totally new concept of prevention of oil pollution, by completely prohibiting the discharge of oil in all sea areas and replacing the concept of maximum amount of oil discharge as stipulated in the ColReg and according to ship’s distance from the nearest land. With the introduction of Annex I, special designs for modern oil tankers have been developed, such as double hull, double bottom or other novel construction as it is clearly better to prevent oil from getting in touch with the sea than to clean up an oil slick. Also, a very sensitive area ‘Special area’ was created and discharge of oil there is prohibited, except under limited, specific circumstances, such as in relation to the operation of oil water separating equipment. All these pollutants under MARPOL 73/78, both oily substances and sodium hydroxide, used as a cleaning agent for cargo tanks in chemical tankers are closely monitored.

2.1 International Maritime Organization (IMO)

The IMO is a United Nations specialized agency that is responsible for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships. It is the highest international body for setting standards and regulations for the shipping industry. The IMO was established following difficulties with two prior international organizations, the International Maritime Consultative Organization and the Intergovernmental Maritime Consultative Organization. A large number of countries, including many major shipping nations, are members. The IMO has adopted around 50 treaties and conventions, some of which apply to oil tankers such as SOLAS, MARPOL, and the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation. IMO treaties are developed and modified by subsidiary bodies; the most important of which is the Maritime Safety Committee and the Marine Environment Protection Committee. The treaties are ratified by Member Governments and it is the responsibility of the IMO to ensure their enforcement. This is achieved through a number of means including the auditing of parties’ giving their intentions of ratification and regular monitoring of national implementation. The IMO is perhaps best known for both its environmental work and its work on improving the safety of shipping. The IMO has developed and adopted a comprehensive framework of regulations covering marine pollution by ships; this has been built up over many years and consists of the MARPOL and International Conventions on oil, chemicals and pollution preparedness and response. The work of the IMO has become increasingly important due to the growth in global shipping. The IMO and its Member States recognize this fact and have tried to establish a sustainable maritime transport system by adopting modern and comprehensive legislation and by creating a good working environment for the industry. The maritime industry is largely a global industry and it is important that there are international standards and codes of practice. The International Shipping Federation believes that the IMO is the appropriate international body to regulate the industry as it creates a level playing field for shipping companies around the world. It is essential that ships are built to an international standard as it not only promotes the prospects of developing world but it also assists the efforts of the UN in its policy and promotion of economic and social development for all people. By making ships and the industry as a whole a more stable and secure environment, developing countries will be encouraged to create a maritime workforce and a larger potential of world trading between all economies will progress. The Shipping Federation also thinks it is important that the IMO continues to make provisions for the safety and security of seafarers as it is a global responsibility to make sure that crews aboard ships, wherever they are in the world, are working in a safe working environment. This is not only part of the moral responsibility to seafarers’ well-being around the world but it also promotes the desirable and urgent need for an integration of issues of their welfare and safety of people in the maritime industry.

2.2 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL)

The introduction should briefly outline the content of this section. Then, the history, objectives, and general structure of MARPOL should be discussed in separate paragraphs. You should also include the annexes of MARPOL, noting that Annex I deals with oil pollution. The discharge provisions of Annex I tie in with Chapter 8 of SOLAS, which provides that the oil filtering equipment must be properly maintained and that the oil discharge monitoring and control system must be effective. The enforcement of the provisions of MARPOL in the territorial sea and the high seas should be discussed. In this regard, Articles 6 and 7 of the convention are highly relevant. Article 6 requires that the state must adopt laws regulating the discharge of oil within a hundred nautical miles from the nearest land. The flag state of the ship should ensure compliance with this requirement and can study the oil record book. Only then can the ship have the right to visit the port or the anchorage. When the ship is on the high seas and not within the territory over which any state can exercise sovereignty, the enforcement is echoed by Article 7, which provides that the control of the discharge into the sea of oil from any ship should be exercised continuously. Coast guards perform examination or may proceed to investigation in this regard. Recovery of oil pollution damage has to be mentioned as well at the end of the section. Recovery can be sought under both the convention and English private law. However, MARPOL has not been incorporated into English law and thus claims may be made only under the convention, where the strict liability principle applies. The compensation fund established under the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation of Oil Pollution Damage 1992 has to be highlighted as well. Such a fund has legal personality and its own governing body, offering more convenience in the process of claiming compensation.

2.3 Classification Societies

IACS is a good example of such an association. It is an international association of classification societies, and it represents over 90% of the world’s tonnage. The aim of IACS is to provide standards and technical support for maritime safety. It achieves this by coordinating the activities of its member classification societies, developing and adopting unified interpretations to international regulations, and providing technical support and advice to the shipping industry and other stakeholders. ICS infers that classification can help to promote innovation in the shipping industry. This is because classification allows ship owners to pursue novel designs and technologies; a class society can work with a ship owner from the concept stage of a vessel to ensure that the design complies with appropriate rules and standards. Once in operation, classification can reduce both the likelihood of incidents and their potential consequences. For example, for a typical oil tanker, a loss of class means that the ship will not be able to carry out its intended function, which is to transport oil. Additionally, Port State Control is much less likely to detain classed ships, as compliance with class rules and standards mitigates potential hazards and risks in operation. However, the benefits of classification will only be realised if class societies continue to maintain and enhance the high standards of professionalism and expertise in the maritime safety industry. This is why illnesses as international law and guidance are researched and developed by individuals with a constant presence in the shipping world – classification societies play a vital and decisive role in making shipping safer. This solidifies the current regime as one with the flexibility to meet the future, also embracing emerging technologies and welcoming innovative designs for ships.

2.4 Flag State Control

The “flag” that a vessel flies determines the laws and regulations with which it must comply. The flag state – the state whose flag the ship is entitled to fly – is responsible for the implementation of international conventions. As explained by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in the “Overview of the Implementation of IMO Instruments” – a circular that provides information on the number of ratifications and accessions sweet study bay to IMO conventions by member states – effective implementation of international conventions depends on various factors, including adequate entry into force criteria, proper instruments for implementation, and adequate procedures for port state control. One of the key instruments for flag state implementation is the appointment of recognized organizations or “R.Os”. These are the classification societies that act on behalf of flag states by verifying that ships comply with relevant international conventions by carrying out surveys and issuing statutory certificates. However, this system comes with two major drawbacks. Firstly, there is evidence that some R.Os do not fulfill their responsibilities. For example, the captain of the Erika, a vessel that sank in the Bay of Biscay in 1999, has been found guilty of fraudulently obtaining a seaworthiness certificate from an R.O. This has prompted the European Union to propose legislation that would prevent vessels from entering EU ports unless they have been inspected by a regional port state control organization. Secondly, the use of so-called “flags of convenience” has caused international concern for many years. These are flags of states that have little connection with the owners of ships registered there. Ships may be registered in these states to benefit from more relaxed safety regulations, lower rates of inspection, and less stringent employment conditions. For example, the IMO in its “Resolution A.947 (23) – Use of the so-called “Flags of Convenience” system” expresses concern that the system allows them to avoid their responsibility to provide information on the identity, ownership, and control of ships. It is suggested that one possible solution to these problems would be for more widespread implementation of the IMO Member State Audit Scheme. This requires member states responsible for the administration of flag states and port states to assess and demonstrate their capacity to fulfill their obligations under international instruments. It is envisaged that the scheme will lead to the identification of areas that need to be addressed by states in order to comply with their responsibilities and ensure that international instruments are properly implemented.

3. Safety Measures for Oil Tanker Operations

Through detailed planning and risk assessment of individual aspects of the operation of the oil tanker and constant monitoring of their operation, the code guarantees a significant level of safety at sea. An ultimate guarantee for effective prevention of accidents and pollution at sea is established by controlling the operation and ongoing management. Such a systematic and procedural approach to safe oil tanker operations is recognized not only for preventing injury and loss of life or avoiding damage to the environment but also for reducing the extent of damage to the environment should the preventions fail.

The safety procedures should be documented, and frequent checks should be carried out to ensure that the equipment for effective pollution control (like the oil-water separator) is operational. The code also imposes the need to designate a person ashore and onboard the oil tanker as personnel to monitor safety and pollution control operation. This leads to the establishment of the ‘Safety Management System’ for the operation of any oil tanker. The code implies that it is essential to assess and approve the safety management system for any company wishing to operate an oil tanker.

As a matter of fact, the International Safety Management Code requires the company to carry out a safety and environmental protection policy. This code was implemented under the convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). The main objective of this code is to ensure safety at sea, prevention of human injury or loss of life, and avoidance of damage to the environment, in particular to the marine environment and to property.

Safety measures for oil tanker operations seek to ensure the safety of the crew, vessel, and marine environment. In this case, the safety measures should be considered through a hazard identification approach. This means that every individual onboard should be able to identify areas, things, and actions that have the potential to cause harm. The possible effect associated with each hazard should then be considered, and control measures are taken to eliminate or minimize the risk associated with each hazard. The control measures should then be regularly maintained and checked so that a safe working environment in relation to both personal safety and pollution prevention is sustained.

3.1 Crew Training and Certification

The ship owner or manager should appoint a person or organization to have duty for the execution of the safety management system as detailed in the code. All these make a solid structure in that they offer clear perspectives in terms of duties, mandate, responsibilities, engagement, control, as well as performance measurement and evaluation resulting from any part of safety and health management.

The International Safety Management (ISM) code has been made using SOLAS’ provision. The ISM code denotes the International Management Code for the Safe Operation of Ships and for Pollution Prevention. It sets down general rules for the safe management of ships and pollution prevention. Actually, it is mandatory for all oil tankers to be operated pursuant to the Code. Furthermore, under the Merchant Shipping (ISM Code) Regulations 1998, no British ship to which Chapter IX of SOLAS applies can be operated unless authorized by a Document of Compliance. The ship can be used when an appropriate Safety Management Certificate is in force. This certificate corroborates the commitment of the owner or manager of the ship to maintain the required standards of safety and pollution prevention.

Furthermore, the Merchant Shipping (Training and Certification) Regulations 1997 similarly require, in the case of an oil tanker, that for every individual required by the Merchant Shipping (STCW) Regulations 1986 to hold a certificate of capability, all individuals shall hold not lower than the prescribed certificate of proficiency. Additionally, every certificate of proficiency shall remain in force subject to the regulations. STCW denotes the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers.

Concerning crew training and certification, the principal regulation is given under the amended Chapter V, Regulation 13 of SOLAS 74. Under this regulation, each ship is required to have an appropriate number of individuals who have received the prescribed training in essential safety onboard so that the ship can be adequately crewed. This requirement applies to all ships, including oil tankers.

3.2 Navigation and Collision Avoidance

The importance of effective navigational practice to ensure the prevention of oil spill incidents was clearly emphasized. It was also mentioned that the bridge management team plays a vital role in ensuring the safety of the vessel during navigation. A sensible and safe for attack has been implemented in the bridge management with the sole purpose of avoiding collision and to prevent grounding. Collision avoidance method by using radar has been briefly explained in this section. It was mentioned that radar plotting or the combined radar plot and ARPA method of collision avoidance has been proved to be very effective. Also, I have learned about the application of international regulations in collision avoidance. For example, the give way research essay pro papers vessel and stand on vessel were defined in accordance to the International Regulation for Preventing Collision at Sea, 1972. Circle and his manoeuvre, which is applicable to either power driven vessel or sailing vessel in sight but doesn’t mean to have action, was explained also. Some of the risks associated with different situations during navigation were explained in the article including situations of crossing, overtaking, and meeting head-on.

3.3 Cargo Handling and Stability

Given the significant risks associated with the cargo carried by oil tankers, cargo handling and stability are of paramount importance. Crude oil, a common cargo in oil tankers, can be very hazardous. The dangers associated with crude oil include tank over-pressurization, tank pressure vacuum valve blockage, explosions or emissions of highly flammable hydrocarbon gas. Oil cargoes also produce a vapor which is toxic and which can also displace oxygen in the atmosphere and create a risk of asphyxiation. In addition to oxygen depletion, toxic gas buildup and the risk of explosion, oil tanker crews must also contend with the physical properties of the cargo itself. Crude oil and other oil cargoes have an adverse effect on the stability of a tanker, which is characterized by the ability of the vessel to return to an upright position from a leaning position. This can have serious consequences as a lack of stability can lead to a vessel capsizing. When loading oil cargo onto a tanker, anti-static precautions need to be taken as well as measures to minimize the generation of vapors. The master of a tanker must ensure that no person smokes or makes a fire on board, or smokes on the dock or in an area designated as a no smoking area. The master must also ensure that the fire detection system is in operation from the time the cargo hoses are connected in loading and discharge operations through to the time that the cargo hoses are finally secured in a safe manner. A proper fire patrol must be maintained. For the purposes of stability, international rules require the positioning of longitudinal bulkheads and the subdivision of cargo spaces to prevent free surface effect within specified limits. Free surface effect is the movement of liquid within a tank due to the movement of a tanker. These regulations also require that accurate and current information regarding the distribution of liquid in a tanker must be maintained to enable timely corrective action to be taken in the event of an emergency such as a breach in the hull of the vessel. As a safeguard, oil tankers are required to maintain a Cargo Record Book, in which all operations concerning the loading, discharge, internal transfer, ballasting and de-ballasting of cargo, as well as the operation of oily-water separating equipment, must be recorded for the relevant tank or tanks. Such records of cargo operations may be subject to inspection by port state control authorities. The final section, Section 3.4, will explore fire prevention and control measures for oil tankers.

3.4 Fire Prevention and Control

All firefighting equipment needs to be well maintained and regularly checked in accordance with the oil tanker procedures and manufacturers’ instructions. To fully understand the kinds of firefighting appliances and their suitable use, large oil tankers are required to conduct Fire Team and Damage Control Drills every 3 months, and On-Board Training and Drills should be held as frequently as monthly. Often, the fire party will be divided into 2 groups, with each group responsible for tackling fire at either the port or starboard side. These kinds of firefighting exercises will familiarize the crew and allow better coordination during any real emergency.

The means of prevention can be achieved through good housekeeping, control of ignition sources, control of potential sources of fuel, spillage precautions, protective procedures during hot work, and effective management of maintenance activities. For firefighting, the Emergency Response Fire Rescue – ERFF training program ensures that any member of the ERT knows exactly what they are expected to do. It is also important to maintain the standard to meet the annual oil pollution prevention drills and exercises, and within 3 years, an oil pollution emergency plan exercise – Regulation 13, Annex 2 of MARPOL 73/78.

The safe operation of oil tankers in the maritime industry is very crucial and vital, not only for the personnel and the surrounding environment. Fires are part of the accidents that might happen in oil tankers, and prevention is the best measure to ensure the safety of life, property, and the environment. The International Safety Guide for Oil Tankers and Terminals – ISGOTT, jointly published by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF), and the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (INTERTANKO), provides guidelines for fire prevention. This includes the means of prevention, safe system of work, advice on firefighting, and reference to Statutory Regulations.

3.5 Emergency Response and Contingency Planning

Emergency and contingency plans for responding to maritime disasters in general and oil spills in particular are required by the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. Every oil tanker must maintain on board an Oil Pollution Emergency Plan, which provides the essential information on the strategy to control a spill. Initially, the person in charge will lay out the booms to contain the oil that has been spilled and then start skimming or soaking up the oil. Dispersants may be used in rougher conditions, but they are toxic chemicals and present an additional risk to the environment. The ship itself will often be the safest place for the crew in the event of a major incident such as fire or explosion – modern tankers are constructed with a double hull, typically with empty space and voids between the hulls which serve as an extra layer of protection to the outer. In every port and terminal used by the ship, there needs to be an agreement that ensures the cost of clean-up and the use of response equipment will be covered. These agreements will typically involve the ship’s owner, the operator of the terminal and the operator of any response service used. Every effort must be made to report the spill or accident as quickly as possible, however large or small it may be. The Oil Pollution Emergency Plan must also include taking steps to alert and mobilize the authorities who have the equipment and expertise to protect the local environment. This will usually include both the coastal state in whose waters the accident has occurred and the flag state of the vessel. On the other hand, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore has enacted a standard operational procedure for all oil spill responses. When combating oil spills in Singapore, whether in the port or at sea, the guidelines provide the framework for an immediate, efficient and coordinated response. First, a report must be made to the Port Operations Control Centre with the time, location, size of the spill as well as the name, IMO number and flag of the vessel. Ships in the vicinity will be asked to help contain the spill, with those which have an Oil Pollution Emergency Plan ready to respond and coordinate activities in consultation with the authorities. Booms, absorbent pads and other specialized equipment stored around the island for emergency use will be deployed from the nine land-based oil spill response bases. Every spill will be graded by severity and this, together with the location, will determine the level of clean-up required in different parts of the harbor and also the techniques to be adopted. Finally, daily equipment deployment reports and regular situation updates must be submitted to the commander of the response forces and the director of marine. All clean-up operations should be monitored and as far as possible CCTV footage, photographs and records of the disposal of recovered waste should be maintained.

4. Challenges and Future Perspectives

4.1 Environmental Concerns and Sustainability

4.2 Technological Advancements in Oil Tanker Design

4.3 Cybersecurity Risks in Maritime Operations

4.4 Collaboration and Cooperation among Stakeholders

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