30 years ago

A look back at the news in July 1981

One aspect of the Bulletin’s reporting that was common 30 years ago but is surprising rare nowadays is the coverage of maritime accidents. This seems to confirm what groups such as the International Salvage Union (ISU) and the Oil Companies’ International Marine Forum (OCIMF) have been saying for a few years now: shipping in general and tanker shipping in particular is getting safer by the year, with fewer and fewer accidents and less and less pollutants being spilled to the oceans.

The July 1981 issue of HCB, for instance, majored on personal protective equipment for seafarers and marine responders, following the dissemination by the Intergovernmental Maritime Consultative Organisation (IMCO) of a circular on Emergency Procedures for Ships Carrying Dangerous Goods. This was later incorporated into the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code as the Emergency Schedules (EmS), in the days when the Code was so arranged in a series of loose-leaf binders that it took up a whole shelf.

The July issue also reported that IMCO was to be renamed in May 1982 as the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), which will make life easier for this column in future. The Organisation itself was, though, under funding pressure after a US-led offensive against spending by UN bodies. One outcome of this was a delay in the planned diplomatic conference to consider the draft Hazardous and Noxious Substances Liability and Compensation Convention (HNS). Given the ongoing delay in getting this implemented, perhaps it would have been better to have cancelled the conference altogether.

But 30 years ago, accidents continued to play a large part in shaping regulations. A near-miss incident off Canvey Island, UK in July 1970 between the Spanish passenger ferry Monte Ulia and a local tank barge, Banco, highlighted the confused state of regulation and licensing in UK inshore waters and at petroleum handling facilities. In avoiding a collision, Monte Ulia struck the head of a 500-metre jetty at the Coryton refinery – operated at the time by Mobil – rupturing pipelines and spilling some 450 tonnes of fuels to the River Thames. At the time, the jetty was covered by both landside licensing provisions and by harbour laws, and in light of the expected proliferation of maritime handling facilities around the UK coast these two sets of regulations were to be reviewed.

The issue also reported on an accident off Morgan City, Louisiana in August 1980, when the tanker Texaco North Dakota rammed into and became impaled on the top of an offshore oil production jacket. A rupture in the forward cargo tanks spilled gasoline, leading to a fire that destroyed both the vessel and the rig. Apparently, the rig’s warning beacons had been knocked out two weeks earlier by a passing hurricane, so it was invisible to the officer on watch aboard the tanker, which was indulging in the already hazardous manoeuvre of ‘running the rigs’ to save time in its approach to Port Arthur.

Over in Rotterdam, port authorities were cleaning up after a massive explosion onboard the 136,000 dwt oil/bulk carrier Agios Ioannis. At the time of the blast the combi carrier was being modified to bring it into line with new IMCO requirements for segregated ballast tanks, while it was discharging iron ore. The explosion happened near a wing tank being used to hold crude oil slops. Six of the nine-man repair crew were killed. A similar incident was reported in April 1981 aboard the ore/bulk/oil carrier Jari at Guanabara Bay. Again, such incidents are less common these days, at least in the more developed nations. If only such an improvement in safety levels could be achieved at shoreside terminals, where ‘explosion during maintenance work’ is still a regular and effective way of killing contract personnel.

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