What do pirates, greenhouse gases, ballast water, radioactive wastes, and oil pollution all have in common?
They are all issues the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is dealing with. While in London for an IMO meeting, I am working on oil pollution issues, but during breaks in meetings I had a chance to walk around and look at some of the other work going on here. Piracy, for example, is a big concern, and the IMO keeps a database on piracy events worldwide.
Pirate attacks have a potential for oil spills and other environmental damage in addition to obvious concerns about the safety of ship crews and loss of property. On July 6, there was a pirate attack on an oil tanker off of Yemen that resulted in the tanker catching fire. Fortunately the early reports seem to indicate that the fire was extinguished without the loss of the oil cargo, and the U.S. Navy ship USS Phillipine Sea safely recovered all crew members.
Oil pollution issues being discussed this week at the IMO meeting include dealing with oil that has sunk beneath the ocean surface, burning surface oil to remove it during spills, potentially polluting shipwrecks, and responding to oil spills in ice and snow conditions.
Countries also have an opportunity to present case histories on recent response efforts. We had a great presentation the other day about the collision and sinking of the container ship Chitra off Mumbai, India, last August. That involved a large oil spill, hundreds of lost containers, dozens of leaking chemical tanks, and a huge salvage operation.
Hopefully I’ll never have to deal with such a complicated case, but I’m glad that the IMO provides a forum for discussion and sharing of lessons learned so that we can have a head start if such an incident happened in U.S waters.