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The Prestige is no Exxon Valdez

By RyoCokey in News
Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 09:45:29 AM EST
Tags: News (all tags)

In the headlines of today's new sources is the recent break-up of the Prestige, precipitating the loss of its contents into the surrounding ocean. It's primarily the location of the Prestige that makes this spill so remarkable and damaging, not the volume.

Comparisons immediately spring up to the Exxon Valdez spill which occured off the coast of Alaska, spilling 37,000 tonnes of oil and sparking a lawsuit against the slow disaster response from Exxon. However, this disaster differs in several ways from the Exxon disaster, both in the cause and how it will be handled. While Exxon was on the hook for almost $900 Million USD the company responsible for this spill will likely pay only a fraction of that, regardless of damages. Additionally, most of the legislation that would address this kind of accident has already been passed.

First of all, it is not a large multinational oil company to blame, but a Greek shipping company. Oddly enough, the oil-producing countries of the world will still be left holding the bag for the damage, as the shipping company is only on the hook for around $25 million USD. The rest would be taken from the IOPC which is a basically a fund for distributing the costs of oil pollution among the participants.

Secondly, the industry as a whole has gotten much better in terms of total volumes spilled. Figures from the ITOPF, an organization dedicated to tanker-based pollution tracks the largest spills as well as total volumes, which have sank considerably from the 70's, and noticably even from the Exxon Valdez years of the late 80's. Tanker accidents have long accounted for much of water-borne oil pollution (As opposed to drilling which is a minute fraction) and the main factor being sited by the media already in this case is the fact the vessel as single-hulled.

For those not familiar with the term, single hulled vessels used the exterior wall of the ship as the container for the oil. Puncture the hull, and the contents spill. Double hulled vessels have just that, a double hull, with the interior portion used for ballast, thus making a much more serious rupture necessary to spill the contents of the vessel.

Hull failure plays a large role in tanker disasters, accounting for 48% of all major spills (1974-2001,) hence the trend towards double hulls. As single hulls were the simple and defacto standard, many older tankers are still in use, as new double-hulled vessels come into use. Both the US and the EU are moving towards entirely phasing out single-hulled tankers, the US with the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and the EU with the European Maritime Safety Agency. Both plans see for a complete phase-out of single-hulled tankers by 2015.

However, in the case of the Prestige, we see an old, outdated cargo vessel that flies a flag of convenience (In this case, the Bahamas.) This means that the ship sails under the regulations of that country, of which is can pick a number of small island countries that will let about anything that can make it out of the harbor fly their flag. Banning ships of a country is essentially a trade embargo, so this practice is still quite common, with obsolete ships being sold off by countries in industrialized nations only to continue sailing past their design life under a new flag. The consequences of this? Both the company that chose to sail this craft and the nation that gave it permission to sail under its flag are likely to get away virtually scot free. The Bahamas are unlikely to suffer repercussions as the British and Spanish argue about whether it should have been let through at all, while the Greek company pays a paltry $25 million unlikely to even partially cover the damage to the coastline. The only mildly glimpse of poetic justice we see is that all 4 countries are paying members of IOPC.


Voxel dot net
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Solution to Single-hulls?
o Ban them from ports in Industrialized countries 58%
o Impose Sanctions on their flag countries 14%
o Continue with current building phase-out 24%
o Leave them as is 2%

Votes: 94
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Prestige,
o $900 Million USD
o $25 million USD.
o Figures from the ITOPF,
o Tanker accidents
o Oil Pollution Act of 1990
o European Maritime Safety Agency.
o Also by RyoCokey

Display: Sort:
The Prestige is no Exxon Valdez | 95 comments (85 topical, 10 editorial, 0 hidden)
double hulled tankers (5.00 / 4) (#2)
by krkrbt on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 10:22:45 PM EST

double hulled tankers aren't a magic bullet - i read somewhere that they corroid twice as fast as a single-hulled tanker.  don't remember where that was, but here's a link:  http://heiwaco.tripod.com/ce_ballast.htm .  maybe it was national geographic?

anyways - the part that holds the oil corroids at least twice as fast as normal, and they're very difficult to fix/repair...

wired maybe? (4.00 / 1) (#63)
by omidk on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 02:00:38 PM EST

I believe that you read this in wired. I often take what wired says with a grain of salt.

[ Parent ]
Sounds interesting... (none / 0) (#95)
by Edwards on Fri Nov 29, 2002 at 08:39:09 AM EST

but I'd like to know why. Doesn't sound all that plausible to me.

[ Parent ]
Flags of convenience and insurance. (4.16 / 6) (#7)
by acceleriter on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 10:54:23 PM EST

OK. I know squat about maritime law and insurance. But I find it amazing that these vessels that fly under flags of convenience to avoid taxation, as well as safety and labor regulations, are able to obtain insurance at all, much less affordably.

If they can now, perhaps they now no longer will?

Flags. (4.66 / 6) (#35)
by sonovel on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 09:51:27 AM EST

It is likely very difficult to really get rid of this practice.

First of all, it is incredibly pervasive. All sorts of ships do it for various reason, including many Cruise Ships. These industries will fight hard against a change.

Secondly, getting rid of this might require the nations whose flags are used to agree to end the practice. Judging whether something is convienence of not might be difficult. At worst it will just drive businesses out of countries that try to outlaw the practice and into the "convenience countries".

Even if Europe makes laws against the practice, can it really be enforced. Is Europe going to impound ships that have the wrong papers? Wars have started for much less.

There is much much more to this than "X is bad, therefore we must outlaw it." Complex problems rarely have simple solutions.

[ Parent ]

Not regulation (4.00 / 1) (#65)
by davidduncanscott on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 02:19:48 PM EST

but insurance. What percentage of ships sail under Lloyd's, and what percentage would sail without insurance? I'd wager that the first figure is over 50, and the second is somewhere near 0, especially when carrying large and valuable cargoes like oil (You might skate around insurance with a hold full of copra or something.) I'd wager that Lloyd's has done more for shipping safety than any other force of man or God, and if they decided to stop covering ships flying the flags of these little countries (I'm waiting for one to arise that's actually land-locked), I'd give the practice maybe a week.

Of course, from their angle, most ships do, in fact, make it to port safely, whether they're flagged in Sierra Leone or the Portsmouth Yacht Club.

[ Parent ]

ahh ... (none / 0) (#70)
by sonovel on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 03:48:49 PM EST

On that part I don't really know.

I think the only way an insurer will not insure is if they face a larger liability than they are paid for.

So they will make these judgments on the data, not social norms (mostly).

So far, obviously, this isn't an issue. Perhaps a huge lawsuit will make it so.

[ Parent ]

two contrary points (4.30 / 10) (#8)
by aphrael on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 11:15:55 PM EST

  • The Valdez dumped crude oil, while this one is dumping fuel oil, which is more damaging and more difficult to clean up.
  • The coastal regions of Galicia are heavily populated and economically dependant on fishing; the economic impact of this spill is probably much greater than that of the Valdez.

what is contrary about this? (4.00 / 1) (#9)
by jungleboogie on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 11:52:53 PM EST

  1. this tanker has refined oil that is harder to clean/more damaging
  2. the spilled region is heavily dependant on its water
seems pretty fucking logical to me!

[ Parent ]
The contrast was different (4.00 / 1) (#13)
by RyoCokey on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 12:03:43 AM EST

I meant to compare how similar accidents will be handled very differently because of the participants involved.

"There is no reason why we should not have peaceful relations with the rest of the world if we cease playing the role of Meddlesome Mattie." - Sen. Art
[ Parent ]
maybe the story changed. (4.00 / 2) (#14)
by aphrael on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 12:08:16 AM EST

i took the original article as asserting that this spill isn't as bad as valdez was. i was trying to present points which were contrary to that suggestion.

[ Parent ]
Yes (none / 0) (#68)
by VON on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 02:49:17 PM EST

I noticed this too. Somewhere in the last couple of days the oil changed from light (easily evaporating) oil to thick crude oil. And this thick oil can stand exposure to open air for years and years. Unfortunately enough.

[ Parent ]
Damn it (3.25 / 4) (#12)
by RyoCokey on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 12:01:39 AM EST

Article was dumped out of edit 'fore I had the time to make changes. Is the edit time limit 2 hours or something?

"There is no reason why we should not have peaceful relations with the rest of the world if we cease playing the role of Meddlesome Mattie." - Sen. Art
Yeah the edit time is short (only 2 hours) (4.00 / 2) (#15)
by HidingMyName on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 12:09:26 AM EST

It is too short, I got burnt my first story too. Still it is a nice piece. If you edit it and submit it, you could probably kill this story. Most of us would be willing to vote again. I've heard rumors that K5's version of scoop allowed you to edit and repost cancelled articles (a bug or feature) but I'm not sure if that still works.

[ Parent ]
because there are a lot of whiny morons on k5 (1.50 / 20) (#16)
by turmeric on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 12:46:48 AM EST



[ Parent ]

I never advocated banning you (3.00 / 3) (#19)
by RyoCokey on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 01:28:50 AM EST

...for the record, turmeric. Nor do I generally vote down your stories.

"There is no reason why we should not have peaceful relations with the rest of the world if we cease playing the role of Meddlesome Mattie." - Sen. Art
[ Parent ]
didnt mean you (1.00 / 1) (#76)
by turmeric on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 09:14:52 PM EST

was just ranting at the universe

[ Parent ]
STOP YELLING FFS [n/t] (1.00 / 2) (#26)
by TurboThy on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 06:45:07 AM EST

'Someone will sig this comment. They will. I know it.' [Egil Skallagrimson]
[ Parent ]
Yup, 2 hours. (4.50 / 2) (#31)
by haflinger on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 09:12:58 AM EST

Cancel and resubmit. This needs a lot more work. Looks fascinating, potential FP material; however, I want more details. Tell me more about the Prestige - where did the spill actually occur, what kind of oil it spilled, etc. A chronology would be cool. Name the Greek shipping company. Tell me who the oil was being shipped for. And so on.

-1 as stands, though.

Did people from the future send George Carlin back in time to save rusty and K5? - leviramsey
[ Parent ]

the amusing (or maybe sad) thing is.. (4.90 / 11) (#17)
by Work on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 01:11:52 AM EST

The various countries involved here are blaming each other. Spain blames Britain because the ship was (apparently) headed for Gibralter. Britain blames a spanish tugboat for making it worse. The company blames a portugeuse destroyer for forcing the ship away from a harbor where it might've had its contents emptied before sinking and the tugboat blames the ship's captain for turning his engines off and refusing to move.

What a bunch of fuckups everyone involved in this whole fiasco are.

Blame the Bahamas (4.10 / 10) (#20)
by Trevor OLeary on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 03:12:12 AM EST

The ship was under their flag, it's their responsibility. Spain should sue their ass. Pesky little 3rd world tax havens who let any crappy old tanker sail with their flag without any regulations should be bombed into the sea. Anyhow they'll get their just deserts from global warming soon anyhow...

[ Parent ]
Responsibility (4.20 / 5) (#22)
by Bad Harmony on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 05:06:33 AM EST

I read an recent news article (BBC?) on this incident that said that the country that flags a tanker is legally responsible for its actions. If true, that could force some of the countries that provide "flags of convenience" to act more responsibly.

54º40' or Fight!
[ Parent ]

In what court, exactly, will that be enforced? (none / 0) (#94)
by ethereal on Fri Nov 22, 2002 at 11:22:45 AM EST

Unless you're willing to start freezing Bahamian assets in EU or US banks, cutting off trade and travel, etc. there probably isn't much of a way to influence them.


Stand up for your right to not believe: Americans United for Separation of Church and State
[ Parent ]

<sung> Blame Canada! </sung> ;) [ (none / 0) (#89)
by vyruss on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 09:20:20 AM EST

  • PRINT CHR$(147)

[ Parent ]
the amusing (or maybe sad) thing is.. (none / 0) (#93)
by Argon on Fri Nov 22, 2002 at 05:37:38 AM EST

Ok... First of all, All Portuguese peolpe was surprised (or maybe not) to see Spain trying to pass the problem to  Portugal. Spain should rescue the boat, not pass the problem to her neighbour!

Second, the last news I read was that they intended to drive the boat all the way to Cape Verde, passing the problem to an African country... I Don't know about you, but this type of solution would turn my stomach.

So, perhaps now the EU wakes up and really enforce its politics. We don't need the world to be cleaned of old boats, we just must not accept them  in our waters.

We don't need and we shouldn't to force the world to change.

[ Parent ]

So ... (2.69 / 13) (#18)
by sonovel on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 01:20:21 AM EST

This means that the horrible U.S. system held the company involved in a spill to a higher standard than European nations will?

And the big bad U.S. oil company provided more money for cleanup than will be provided by all the entities in this incident?


So respond to the argument. (2.75 / 4) (#32)
by sonovel on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 09:40:59 AM EST

All I can conclude is that some people like to use comment ratings when they can't refute an argument they dislike.


Is the European system likely to produce a better outcome in this case, which many are saying is potentially worse than the Exxon-Valdez disaster?

Is theis pastiche of small companies going to be held to the same standard as the U.S. held a large one?

[ Parent ]

read the fucking article, moron (2.25 / 4) (#36)
by crazycanuck on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 10:05:14 AM EST

the whole point of this artcle is that the situations are not the same.

if this had happened in the Exxon Valdez case, the US wouldn't have done anything either.

which part of "this ship belongs to a transport company (not an oil producer like the valdez) registered in a country with basically no laws" do you have trouble comprehending?

[ Parent ]

Excellent response, really a great argument. (2.66 / 6) (#40)
by sonovel on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 10:15:42 AM EST

You miss the point totally asshole. (Are insults considered debate in Cunuckistan? If so, no wonder it is a third world nation in terms of influence in the world).

The U.S. did hold an entity accountable. Europe apparently cannot or will not.

So having a large oil company (Exxon) isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Also, it shows that the U.S. system apparently can work better in some situations.

(And no, I don't dislike Canada, it is a great place. And no, it isn't a third world nation, that is up there to show how insults don't help an argument.)

[ Parent ]

And I conclude (2.66 / 3) (#37)
by fhotg on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 10:06:47 AM EST

that some people would even pull a US vs. EU comparison out their ass when the story is about the procreative organs of polynesian silverfish.
Gitarren für die Mädchen -- Champagner für die Jungs

[ Parent ]
It was there already, I responded. (2.25 / 4) (#38)
by sonovel on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 10:10:28 AM EST

The comparison is in the damned article, it is even implied in the title. The second paragraph makes this comparison a big theme of this article.

I responded to that, so perhaps you should argue about it with the author not me.

Of course, your response has little to do with the discussion, but that just highlights my (secondary) point about how some people rate.

[ Parent ]

I reread the story (3.50 / 2) (#54)
by fhotg on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 11:41:54 AM EST

and can't follow you. The comparison is about this accident with the last of a similar order of magnitude. There is not the slightest hint of a US vs. EU comparision and it would make no sense anyways. You are overly sensible to that topic.
Gitarren für die Mädchen -- Champagner für die Jungs

[ Parent ]
you can't follow him (1.50 / 2) (#58)
by crazycanuck on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 11:50:05 AM EST

because he's a troll

[ Parent ]
The title, and the first paragraph. (3.00 / 2) (#69)
by sonovel on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 03:45:32 PM EST

The comparison of the two wreck is right there in the title and introduction!

What the hell are you reading?

It's already there! The comparison was made. I followed that comparison with an observation on the likly legal ramification. So what the hell are you reading, since it can't be the article right here!

[ Parent ]

That's not an argument (4.00 / 5) (#41)
by StrontiumDog on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 10:22:16 AM EST

that's a troll.

The answer, is "no".

The Exxon Valdez was not the worst spill of its time. It was the 34th worst at the time. The costs incurred by Exxon were the result of civil litigation (most of it still pending), not of the "system" - US laws regarding oil spillage were tightened after the Exxon Valdez spill.

Civil litigation is still possible in this case, though complicated by the fact that unlike in the Exxon Valdez case, offender and victim are from separate countries.

And it's not the "European" system, it's the International Maritime Organization system.

To summarise: is Chirac's dick longer than Bush's? Discuss, sonovel.

[ Parent ]

So ... (2.20 / 5) (#48)
by sonovel on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 11:09:49 AM EST

The "U.S. system" punished Exxon to the tune of 900 million dollars.

You agree that it is unlikely that the offenders in this case will be punished like that. Europe will squabble over responsibility, a little shipping company may be forced into bankruptcy and little else will happen.

We apparently agree.

The outcome of the EV disaster was better than this one.

So fucking bite me. You don't disagree with me, but you say I'm a troll. What's wrong with that picture?

You and your rating troll buddies are the biggest dicks around. How's that for a response?

[ Parent ]

Oh and ... (2.66 / 3) (#49)
by sonovel on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 11:12:34 AM EST

What the hell does EV not being the worst spill of all time have to do with anything? Did I say it was?

You seem to be responding to something I didn't say, or you are making some point unrelated to mine, but I don't see the relevence.

[ Parent ]

Incompetence is to blame (5.00 / 15) (#21)
by karolo on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 04:49:12 AM EST

I am from Galiza, the region afected by the oil spill, though I live in UK now, so what I know about the spill is what I read in the media, plus comments from my friends and family.

The most spread opinion in Galiza is that the spanish government is to blame for the way they handled the issue. When the tanker first signaled for trouble the intention of the captain was to get near the coast to try and transfer the load to another ship, that was last thursday, however the spanish government didn't want to risk having the tanker sink near the coast, so they sent the tugs to tow the tanker away from the coast. Now, the weather conditions made towing very difficult, so by friday the tanker was at only 5 miles from the Costa da Morte (Coast of Death). At that point it would have made more sense to try to keep it there and try to atempt the transfer of the load, since the tanker was still in, relativelly, good condition. However, the powers that be decided to take the tanker out to sea again, wich lead to the spread of the spill to a much larger area than it would have reached otherwise, and finally to the sinking of the tanker, which now has become a time bomb in the bottom of the ocean, right in front of the Atlantic Islands natural reserve and in the middle of a rich fishing area.

All in all, a pretty grim prospect for the fishing industry in Galiza.

english epelling (2.50 / 2) (#47)
by aphrael on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 10:57:19 AM EST

the common english spelling for the region is 'galicia', not 'galizia'. (just thought you'd like to know. :))

[ Parent ]
spelling (4.50 / 4) (#52)
by karolo on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 11:24:07 AM EST

I spelled the name as Galiza on purpose, note there is no 'i' between 'z' and 'a', that is my preferred spelling of the name of my country when I write in any language.

[ Parent ]
fair enough. (3.50 / 2) (#55)
by aphrael on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 11:46:31 AM EST

it's perfectly reasonable to export the gallego spelling of the name into other languages. just realize that nobody's going to know where you're talking about. :)

[ Parent ]
Names in different languages (4.75 / 4) (#75)
by QuickFox on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 08:28:00 PM EST

By that logic I should call my country Sverige when writing in any language. Yo soy de Sverige entonces.

So the general feeling in Galiza is that the blame for the pollution is with the Español Government, not the Ελληνική ship owner company.

Give a man a fish and he eats for one day. Teach him how to fish, and though he'll eat for a lifetime, he'll call you a miser for not giving him your fi
[ Parent ]

People are very angry at the government (5.00 / 1) (#81)
by karolo on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 05:38:34 AM EST

The general feeling I get from the on line forums and the local press is that the locals see the government as the main guilty part because of their handling of the situation, and now it is emerging that they (the government) even ignored offers from Britain and Germany to help with the spill as early as last thursday, and just to add insult to injury the spanish agriculture minister said at some point that there wasn't an ecological disaster of any kind.

If anybody should be in jail it should be the spanish government.

[ Parent ]

what I don't understand (4.00 / 5) (#23)
by fhotg on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 05:14:45 AM EST

If I'm stopped by the police and the cops find my car unsafe for the road (defunct brakes, no lights at night or so) they force me to take the bus home.

Why can't that be done with oil tankers, who have to show up in ports controlled by supposedly responsible countries (as opposed to the Bahamas).
Gitarren für die Mädchen -- Champagner für die Jungs

Oil leaks from cars aren't as dangerous (3.50 / 2) (#25)
by Tobias J Lobster on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 06:00:38 AM EST

A car with broken lights at the side of the road is unlikely to cause much harm to anyone.

The people running the port aren't going to want a soon-to-be-leaking tanker left in their care, and unless they have the facilities to pump out and store the oil there's not a lot they can do.

The safest option for all concerned is to get the tanker to it's destination or some other location where it can be unloaded as quickly as possible before it falls apart... At which point I agree that the captiain and crew should have to take the bus home.

[ Parent ]

I don't buy this (4.00 / 1) (#34)
by fhotg on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 09:45:49 AM EST

Ever heard of a ship falling apart in a port and causing a spill ?. This happens in heavy sea, but not in a port. For the cost of having the ship there, the owner or reeder is easy to bill.
Gitarren für die Mädchen -- Champagner für die Jungs

[ Parent ]
Still a risk? (4.00 / 2) (#42)
by Tobias J Lobster on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 10:34:19 AM EST

Good point - I've never heard of a ship falling apart in a port, and I'd agree it's far more likely in rough seas, but a port that is unable to deal with a dangerous ship would only be delaying the problem until later. (I don't have any information on what percentage of ports are able to repair ships or offload oil, I'm assuming it's not the majority though).

Blame culture also comes into this.  If as port manager I impounded a ship which then leaked I would have to accept responsibility.  The media and local population would be unlikely to take the pragmatic view that things would have been worse if the ship had been allowed to leave.

It appears that in this case there was an option of towing The Prestige to a port where the oil could have been unloaded, but that was blocked for political reasons.

[ Parent ]

yeah (3.00 / 1) (#57)
by fhotg on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 11:47:19 AM EST

It appears that in this case there was an option of towing The Prestige to a port where the oil could have been unloaded, but that was blocked for political reasons.
It was blocked by cowardice. Had the thing broken apart short of the coast while underway into a Spanish port, the Spaniards would have been responsible for cleaning it up.

Duh, it's their fucking coast and fisheries, now they are at least as bad off. Thinking about it, stupid politicians must have been involved.
Gitarren für die Mädchen -- Champagner für die Jungs

[ Parent ]

something of that nature *happened* here. (5.00 / 3) (#46)
by aphrael on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 10:54:46 AM EST

This 'event' has been going on for almost a week, and it's only gotten much public scrutiny in the US in the last day or so.

When the tanker first started experiencing problems, on the 14th, it sought refuge in a spanish port; Spain not only refused it entry to its ports, it ordered it to go away, and sent tugs out to pull it further away from the coast.

The tugs spent most of the ensuing week pulling the ship away, and managed to increase the distance by ~70 miles before it went under. The company which owns the ship claims the tugs exacerbated the cracks in the hull and thereby made the split inevitable.

This also is how Spain and Portugal ended up arguing over the issue; the tugs appear to have crossed into Portugese territorial waters, which allows Spain to claim that it's now Portugal's problem to clean it up (a claim Portugal rejects).

[ Parent ]

yeah, I followed this (4.50 / 2) (#53)
by fhotg on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 11:34:54 AM EST

What I mean is, that wreck was at least in Latvia and Gibraltar and some US port during the last 3 years. These tankers are supposed to be checked. Apparently this didn't happen, or had no consequences. What's needed is some intl. legislation which forces the port-authority to put on a chain boats transporting dangerous goods if they are not up to snuff, security-wise. Else the country of the last port is responsible to clean up the damage. That's at least how I would tackle the problem, if I was the King of the World.
Gitarren für die Mädchen -- Champagner für die Jungs

[ Parent ]
Good idea, but... (4.00 / 1) (#66)
by VON on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 02:24:31 PM EST

...many ports already do this. In the Rotterdam harbour about one ship a week is being told not to leave before the problems with the ship are solved. Not every ship is checked, however. And of course, you'll find enough harbours where nobody cares.

[ Parent ]
uhh.. (4.00 / 1) (#77)
by gps on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 09:24:46 PM EST

ship, "hello.  i'm going to park this pending evironmental disaster off your coast because you just told us its not seaworthy and we can't sail it anymore."

country, "hmm.  no, nevermind, you're ships okay.  leave now please!"

ship, "an inspection mistake?  again?  thanks!  bye."

[ Parent ]

Erm... (4.80 / 15) (#24)
by RobotSlave on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 05:28:37 AM EST

It would appear from your description of the IOPC that you don't appreciate the difference between a major "oil producing nation" (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, Kuwait, Iraq, etc) and the three nations (US, UK, Netherlands) housing the five major multinational oil companies (Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell, Chevron Texaco, Gulf)

I'd suggest a closer look at the way the IOPC actually works (it will require a trip to the library; the more interesting details of the oil industry are not available online) before pushing your argument any further.

Merely for the sake of humor, I would note that your choice of verb when you say that tanker accidents have "sank" since the 1970's is rather unfortunate.

In your discussion of single-hulled vs. double-hulled tankers, you seem to be unaware of the fact that cheaply-constructed double-hulled tankers suffer from much greater rates of corrosion than the older single-hulled vessels. This is just beginning to make itself felt, as double-hulled ships are only now beginning to fail (read: sink) "prematurely." Again, you'll probably have to go to the library to learn more about this.

Finally, you can beat up on "flag of convenience" nations like the Bahamas all you like, but the fact of the matter is that inspections in even the most "modern" nations are woefully inadequate, and repeatedly pass ships on the brink of hull failure.

Tankers are not cheap, and for various reasons, the big five generally prefer to own and operate their own ships. Furthermore, pretty much every nation on earth wants to have more tankers under its flag, not less. Wagging our fingers when disaster strikes isn't going to change these things.

The notion of some sort of "tanker spill justice" is appealing, but if you want to make a reasonable argument, you'll have to find a way to force five companies in three nations with a proportionately short coastline to pay for the bulk of the damage caused by the oil spilled the the world's oceans every year, of which only a fraction is attributable to gross hull failure.

In short: decent sentiment, appallingly poor research. The oil industry is a huge, complex subject. The more you know, the harder it is to summarize. I do like short articles about Big Oil, but only when they have a very narrow and carefully researched focus.

This criticism makes little sense (5.00 / 1) (#50)
by RyoCokey on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 11:15:53 AM EST

I'm not sure what your problem is. First of all the US which harbors a number of major oil companies isn't even in IOPC. Secondly, IOPC contains nearly every major oil exporter in the world, although some still have "entered in the force" into the treaty. Finally, while IOPC raises much of it's money from shipping companies within it, the State also has an option to pay, which is probably what we'll see here.

"There is no reason why we should not have peaceful relations with the rest of the world if we cease playing the role of Meddlesome Mattie." - Sen. Art
[ Parent ]
It doesn't? (4.00 / 1) (#71)
by RobotSlave on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 04:49:37 PM EST

What part of my comment didn't make sense?

At any rate, you seem to be saying something different now. As I read it, you are saying that spills should be paid for by nations that happen to have oil underneath them.

Call me crazy, but I'd prefer spills be paid for by the owners of the spilt oil. This would be difficult, of course, as the ownership of the oil often changes hands several times while the oil is sitting in a tanker.

It might also be a good idea to have the shipping company pay for the spill, but there would be some risk that this would kill off the independent shippers.

[ Parent ]

I don't have much of any view (none / 0) (#78)
by RyoCokey on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 09:41:31 PM EST

Hence it's in News, not op-ed. I meant the "poetic justice" comment at the end as a humorous statement, not an advocation of any particular payment plan.

"There is no reason why we should not have peaceful relations with the rest of the world if we cease playing the role of Meddlesome Mattie." - Sen. Art
[ Parent ]
Corporate LIability (4.28 / 7) (#28)
by ph317 on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 07:25:48 AM EST

This speaks volumes to the problems of Corporate Liability.  In the US and elsewhere, Coprorations get all the powers, rights, and privelegs of a real human being, but none of the true fiscal responsibility.  If I as a human have a net worth of $500, and I go blow up someones (unoccupied) house worth $500,000, I'm actually liable for it.  I will be in debt the rest of my life.  In the case of a company, they simply pay the $500, go broke, and fold up the company.

Ostensibly when Corporate Law was being set up in the United States, this limited liability was set up to encourage investment in corporations - so that if you bought $10 of stock in a company, you could only lose your original $10 if they sank.  If Corporations were fully liable, the a $10 stock investment could turn into a $10,000 debt pretty easily.

However, at the same time that these limited liabilities were established, Corporations had huge resitrctions on them: The were required to serve the Common Good, they had a maximum lifespan of 25 years, they could be forcibly dissolved earlier if they failed to serve the Common Good, etc...  Over time, we stripped away all the restrictions of the Corporation, but left them with their lack of liability.

So the moral of the situation is now that if you want to get off scot-free doing something that a normal human would be debt-burdened for the rest of his natural life for doing - just start a corporation to do it under, and you've got no worries.

Seems backwards. (4.00 / 2) (#33)
by sonovel on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 09:43:50 AM EST

"US and elsewhere"

The U.S. held Exxon liable to the tune of nearly a billion dollars.

This article argues that Europe will not hold anyone liable for that level of responsibility for this disaster.

[ Parent ]

actually you wouldn't. (5.00 / 4) (#43)
by aphrael on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 10:43:10 AM EST

In the US, at least, you'd declare bankruptcy, and a bankruptcy judge would take away all of your assets, and otherwise you'd be clear.

The recent reform to bankruptcy law foundered on a specific case of exactly this issue: whether or not anti-abortion protestors could use bankruptcy laws to get out of paying fines. In general, though, using personal bankruptcy to get out from under the weight of crushing liability demands is *normal*.

[ Parent ]

bankruptcy (none / 0) (#85)
by chbm on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 06:04:50 AM EST

Doesn't bankruptcy generally makes your life a living hell in US ? As in, no credit whatsoever including credit cards ?

-- if you don't agree reply don't moderate --
[ Parent ]
Yes (none / 0) (#92)
by ph317 on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 12:59:54 PM EST

Individuals can escape liability with bankruptcy, but it comes at a dear price.  Bankruptcy stays on your credit record for 7 years, and virtually nobody will deal with you financially on anything but a cash basis for that duration.

On the other hand, corps can close shop, and the people who founded/owned/invested in these corps can go on to make new ones and nobody is neccesarily the wiser as to their past doings.  There's essentially no real penalty involved.

[ Parent ]

Poll should be... (3.00 / 3) (#30)
by kaol on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 08:45:47 AM EST

Solution to ships under a flag of convenience.

polls (none / 0) (#62)
by eudas on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 01:17:08 PM EST

contrary to popular k5 belief, the poll is not the most important part of an article.

"We're placing this wood in your ass for the good of the world" -- mrgoat
[ Parent ]

The OBL approach to cleaning oil slicks... (3.66 / 3) (#39)
by mirleid on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 10:13:05 AM EST

From this article on the Guardian:

Bombing the slick It is difficult to ignite and keep burning such a heavy fraction of oil in the cold Atlantic. Firebombing the slick is nonetheless gaining popular support

Interesting, that one...I dont think that I have ever heard about anybody trying to clean up an oil spill by firebombing it...

Chickens don't give milk
Wouldn't work (4.33 / 3) (#56)
by p0ppe on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 11:46:49 AM EST

The article also states that it most likely wouldn't work...

"Democracy is three wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner."
[ Parent ]
Not working wouldn't stop the spanish government (4.00 / 2) (#59)
by karolo on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 12:01:46 PM EST

They already messed it up in the first place, and there are reports in the spanish press that they considered bombing the Prestige with F-18 fighters to sink it, go figure.

[ Parent ]
From my understanding (none / 0) (#73)
by RyoCokey on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 06:33:03 PM EST

Generally fire is used on spills of lighter oils, incinerating the surface spill and sending the burnt remains to the bottom of the ocean, removing much of the threat to wildlife. However, the longer the oil stays in the water, the more the volatile components evaporate or are broken down by bacteria, making burning it impossible.

"There is no reason why we should not have peaceful relations with the rest of the world if we cease playing the role of Meddlesome Mattie." - Sen. Art
[ Parent ]
Very suspicious (4.00 / 2) (#44)
by gillo on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 10:50:26 AM EST

While all the press and the public opinion is concentrating on the spanish oil disaster of the "Prestige", Exxon, the world's largest private oil corporation and the saboteours of action to stop climate change, is sending out a press release saying that they are going to invest $100 million in a Stanford's research for alternative energy.

Bearing in mind that they make no mention of renewable energy and that the timing is quite odd, I'd say that this was yet another sneaky pr corporate move.

Hey, what ever gets them to pay up (4.00 / 2) (#61)
by p3d0 on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 01:05:07 PM EST

If public embarrassment makes them pay, that's just fine with me.

Now if only they would get embarrassed more often without spilling thousands of tons of oil into the ocean.
Patrick Doyle
My comments do not reflect the opinions of my employer.
[ Parent ]

Link to Exxon press release (4.00 / 1) (#45)
by gillo on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 10:52:02 AM EST


Before you post something anti-greek... (2.00 / 1) (#60)
by karjala on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 01:00:54 PM EST

...the greek people are not supporting the right of greek ships to pollute.

Perhaps the ministry or the ship-owners are, but that's different.

No, not the same. So? (4.33 / 3) (#64)
by VON on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 02:17:14 PM EST

Yes sure, the legal repercussions are going to be completely different. In the Exxon Valdez case the captain of the ship (and thus his employer) were very much responsible. The Prestige on the other hand is one of those old, rusty, dangerous ships that just keep on going till it sinks, and then nobody seems to know what actually went wrong. The environmental repercussions look very much comparable, though. Same thick kind of oil, low temperatures (keeps the oil from evaporating), and the coast there is, like in Alaska, unique and valuable.

Another thing: here, in The Netherlands, most seabirds do not die from accidental oil spills but from illegal spills, i.e. ships cleaning their cargo hold.

Wired reported on this issue... (3.66 / 3) (#67)
by cr0sh on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 02:27:31 PM EST

In Wired 10.06 - The New Supertanker Plague, it was reported about failures of double-hulled ships due to extremely rapid corrosion, etc - worth the read. I only read it about a week ago, then this happens.

There is a solution to this, noted in the article, consisting of making double-hulls with some form of plastic/steel sandwitch - that is supposedly lighter, cheaper, and stronger. However, there are a lot of regular double-hull ships currently sailing, and still quite many single-hull ships sailing as well. I expect that we will hear about more of these disasters as time goes on.

One final note - I just finished reading the book "Nature's End" (one of the authors is Whitley Strieber - spelling might be off, but he worked with the other author, whom I can't remember - and wrote "War Day" as well) - and I tend to think "Yeah, that is how people would act - thick blanketing clouds choking people dead due to massive inversions, and people STILL won't get why it is happenning". I tend to wonder just how bad will all of the pollution, logging of rain forests, die-offs of species, melting of icecaps, collapses of ice shelves, etc - how much has to happen before we finally wake up? And if we do wake up, and attempt to change - will it be too late? I realize that "yeah - the earth will do fine, with or without us" - but how can we be so fatalistic as to not try to do anything more beneficial to improve our enviroment for everyone? Are we really that greedy and selfish? I tend to think we are, and perhaps not deserving of continuance on this planet? We don't have a Gupta Singh yet proposing a "Depop Manifesto" (read the book to understand) - but I did see a link to a group/site that supports such an idea (wonder if it sprung from the book, or the other way 'round?), so is such a person that far off...?

Some details from local news (5.00 / 2) (#72)
by chbm on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 05:22:40 PM EST

The ship was aparently not sea worthy. I don't know the exact process but from my understanding it didn't go through the mandatory inspections. It was basicly a floating wreck and the waves riped the hull. It didn't hit anything.

It stoped in UK for high sea refueling. UK was supposed to inspect the ship as per EU law but they didn't do it. Despite neglecting to perform the inspection claiming they didn't have the means to do it in high seas they still refueled the ship.

-- if you don't agree reply don't moderate --

Your claim appears to be false (4.00 / 3) (#79)
by jbuck on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 10:03:22 PM EST

You appear to be parroting the line of the Spanish government, but this charge seems to be false on several accounts. The ship was anchored off of Gilbraltar, but didn't enter port. Furthermore the EU regs only require inspection only 1 out of 4 times. This is just more of the Spanish-British sniping over the status of Gilbraltar, and also an attempt by the Spanish to get around the fact that they had a chance to prevent the damage by taking it into port and containing the oil at an earlier stage, but instead they towed it out to sea -- right out to the edge of one of the best fishing grounds in the area.

The real problem is the flags-of-convenience nonsense, which encourages shopping around to find the shoddiest regulations, and single-hulled oil tankers, which are supposed to be phased out, but not until 2015.

[ Parent ]

Towing (none / 0) (#83)
by chbm on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 05:54:29 AM EST

As for my parroting, as I said it's local news bits.  

When the distress was sent the ship was already broke. If the spanish had towed it to port it would have spilled directly on the coast and there was a serious danger of sinking it in shallow water. I had experts saying deeper waters would freeze the crude and the choice was not "how do we salvage it ?" was "where do we let it sink ?".

The firmest acusations I heard was the spanish didn't allow a go at trying to transfer the oil. Petrogal (portuguese oil company) volunteered to do hours after the disaster but they were turned down.
I also heard today Petrogal turned down that tanker a few months ago cause they considered it unsafe.

-- if you don't agree reply don't moderate --
[ Parent ]

A comparison of Exxon Valdez and Prestige (5.00 / 6) (#74)
by dani14 on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 07:08:01 PM EST

Planet Ark posted an article contrasting the two accidents. The salient points are:
"- The Prestige is carrying 500,000 barrels of petroleum and has already lost 73,000 barrels. Valdez held 1.26 million barrels and spilled 257,000 barrels.

- Oil from the Valdez spill heavily coated 200 miles of Alaskan coast. The Prestige has blackened the coast of Galicia and has so far left a 10-mile (16 kilometer) long slick.

- Exxon says it paid $2.2 billion in clean up costs and $300 million to Alaskans for the Valdez disaster.

- The Prestige spill is in rough waters with 16-foot (five meter) waves, while the Valdez spilled into the calm waters of the Prince William Sound.

- The Prestige is carrying heavy fuel oil while the Valdez was carrying a light crude oil. The fuel oil has mixed with water into patches and is spreading, while light crude oil evaporates quicker, experts said."

While I recognize that it may be a moot point, looking at the above differences, I heard on the radio that the Exxon Valdez disaster cleaned up years before it was predicted to be so. However, now that I've done some research, I found on MSNBC that:
"Only two of the 23 species designated as damaged by the oil spill -- the river otter and the bald eagle -- are classified as "fully recovered." "
So I guess my radio source was a little optimistic.

What is interesting is that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggests that the Exxon Valdez sites that were cleaned using hot-water have suffered more adversely than those that were allowed to naturally be cleaned by the moving sea water. Don't get me wrong, they were both worse off than sites that weren't spilled on, but in the debate over what cleaning methods to use, perhaps it's true that "Mother [Nature] knows best" and the clean up (other than bathing poor birds and animals) should be left to the tides.


"The samaritans parable obviously missed the bit where jizzbug ... kicked the crap out of the guy "just to see if he could do it, you know, to test if the law was perfect and all"." -- Craevenwulfe
I wonder about impact on Spain's food supply (4.75 / 4) (#80)
by HidingMyName on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 10:36:36 PM EST

I was in Madrid this year, and I was amazed at the amount of fresh and affordable seafood the Spanish eat, even in cities far from the ocean/sea. I was told that Madrid was the city with the highest seafood consumption in Europe, and I think it may be true (although as a U.S. citizen I'm far from expert). This could be a real problem for Spain if they rely on fishing near where the slick is, and the economic impact could be much more than some people operating fishing boats. Are there any Spanish/EU readers who can comment on this?

This is very very bad for the local economy (5.00 / 3) (#82)
by karolo on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 05:46:31 AM EST

I am from affected area.

The area affected accounts for about half of the spanish fishing industry. Even though not all the fish that is procesed in the area is fished in the zones affected by the spillage. A large percentage of the population depends directly or indirectly from the fishing industry.

At this time of the year some of the most expensive shellfish types are ready for collection, and for many families this is the time to fill up their bank accounts for the rest of the year, so this is not going to be a happy christmass for them. It is estimated that about 70% of the Costa da Morte (the most affected area) depend directly on the fishing industry for a living.

On top of that, if the contamination spreads further south, to the Rias Baixas, the situation can get even worse, as all the shell fish farms will have to close, leaving nearly all the Galician coastal population without a job.

This is really really serious.

[ Parent ]

Why was the ship towed out to sea? (none / 0) (#86)
by HidingMyName on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 08:35:49 AM EST

It seems that local authorities towed the ship out to sea, if I understand the NY times article correctly, which states:
The London Club, Universe Maritime and Galician fishermen have questioned the government's decision to order the tanker out to sea last week when it began leaking 31 miles offshore, rather than bringing it into port to unload its cargo.

"One thing we are concerned about," said Paul Hinton, the chief executive of A. Bilbrough & Company., which manages the London Club's insurance program, "is why was the ship towed out to sea and not given immediate refuge?"

Is it possible that they were trying to protect the shellfish fisheries on the coast?

[ Parent ]
I don't know (5.00 / 1) (#87)
by karolo on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 08:42:08 AM EST

The general impression is that they just didn't think through what they were doing. It seems they were concerned that if the tanker came to the coast there would be polution in the area, while taking it to the sea wouldn't produce any polution. As a result they carried the tanker around for six days, while pouring fuel out all the time, which made the situation much worse than if the tanker had been kept next to the coast, where it could have been emptied, and in any case, the slip would have been easier to contain.

[ Parent ]
Fishing (4.00 / 2) (#84)
by chbm on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 06:00:29 AM EST

Fishing in that area is runined for at least 6 months, 8 or 9 months for shellfish. There's talk about subsidies for the local fishermen during the ban.

However, that's not the only source of fish, Spain and Portugal have a large coast and many fishing areas.

-- if you don't agree reply don't moderate --
[ Parent ]

Xmas is here (none / 0) (#91)
by jgbustos on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 11:20:50 AM EST

It's going to be a total disaster, I can tell you.

In Spain there is a huge tradition of fish and shellfish consumption in Christmas, and so far, prices have already soared around 30% just one week after the wreckage.

Some experts estimate it will take 4 or 5 years to regenerate fisheries affected by the oil spill. Meanwhile hundreds of families will have to get state subsidies to survive.

[ Parent ]

May not be as bad as it seems (4.00 / 1) (#88)
by bill_mcgonigle on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 09:18:14 AM EST

This thing sunk at 150 miles out, in two miles of water.  The Valdez was in a sound.  Big difference.  Some geologists are making the hypothesis that the bulk of the oil will fall to the ocean floor, where the incredible pressures will cause the oil to solidify.  It might be worn away over several decades, a rate at which it shouldn't be noticable - natural oil vents produce more pollution than this will - if the theory is right.

I'm not sure how this fits with the commonly-known fact that oil floats on water, but I didn't see any oil slicks in the boat pictures, so I assume the geologists know more about this than I do.

Oil vs. Water (none / 0) (#90)
by Ashz0r on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 09:53:36 AM EST

It's true that most common oils float on water, but this is due to their lower density. Certain hydrocarbon mixes have a higher density that the 1 g/cc enjoyed by water under approximately standard conditions. Also take into account that liquid water, subjected to high pressure, remains a liquid, as ice is slightly less dense than liquid water. (Sidenote: this is how ice skates work.) So the oil would be compacted into a solid (geologists would know how much more dense the solid form is than its liquid form) and sink and not spread. They probably took other factors into account, such as the temperature of the environment as well.

[ Parent ]
The Prestige is no Exxon Valdez | 95 comments (85 topical, 10 editorial, 0 hidden)
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