Many people are unaware of the need for marine conservation. Some only show an interest when a shipping accident has caused an oil spill; others are concerned about matters such as pollution (not only oil pollution but also the dumping of non-biodegradable items in the sea), overfishing and poaching.
All responsible shipowners and operators are extremely enthusiastic about marine conservation and subscribe to the concept of Clean Ships, Clean Seas. Over the last twenty-five years, the shipping industry itself – and especially the tanker sector – have taken major steps to combat any form of pollution of the seas. These steps include the following:
- Double skins for tankers and for bunker tanks. This means that minor accidents are unlikely to cause oil pollution as the cargo tanks of tankers and the bunker tanks of other vessels will probably not be penetrated.
- More mandatory training for tanker officers and other crewmembers. Any crewmember serving aboard tankers needs to undergo special training that relates to the careful handling of flammable cargoes and also to the special precautions against fire aboard tankers.
- Routing of tankers in certain areas. In some areas, loaded tankers are routed away from the coast. In South Africa, loaded tankers are directed to keep 25 nautical miles off the salient points along the coast, unless the tankers are calling at a South African port.
- Revised procedures for tank cleaning. Serious explosions during tank-cleaning operations aboard tankers led to scientific research into the causes, and the subsequent revision of cleaning operations using cargo liquid instead of water.
- Stricter regulations relating to disposal of waste. Detailed regulations have been introduced to curb the disposal of black water (sewage), grey water (from showers, galley, etc. aboard ships), oily waste, including bilge water, slops, garbage, solids and especially plastics and other non-biodegradable items. All ships now have to keep very accurate records relating to shipboard waste, most of which now has to be removed from ships in port and taken to suitable disposal sites. Ships also have oil-water separation plants to process bilge water and to stop oil from being dumped overboard. Fines (and even jail sentences) are imposed on offenders.
Working together with various authorities, the shipping industry has progressed substantially in achieving the goal of conserving the environment in which ships operate. It’s in the interests of all to ensure that the seas and the delicate relationships between marine creatures remain in a pristine state.