Maritime And Coastguard Agency Updates Marine Pollution National Contingency Plan
The Government agency responsible for maritime safety policy in UK is to update its National Contingency Plan (NCP) for dealing with marine pollution.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is seeking views on its newdraft NCP (162-page / 988KB PDF), which sets out arrangements to ensure a timely, measured and effective response to marine pollution incidents or to situations where there is a risk of significant pollution from ships and offshore installations. The previous NCP was published in 2006.
The NCP relates to all incidents within UK Pollution Control Zone (UKPCZ) and is one of the measures designed to meet the UK's international and domestic obligations. The plan provides a practical framework to inform those dealing with marine pollution incidents. It sets out information requirements, advice on dealing with the media, information on waste management, enforcement and prosecution, monitoring and international co-operation arrangements.
Environmental law expert Gordon McCreath of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the framework set out in the NCP and other specific requirements for offshore operators should be incorporated into developers' own response protocols.
"The immediate steps taken by a business in response to a pollution incident are key to protecting its legal position as well as its reputation," he said. "To best protect their interests, developers need to ensure that their existing environmental incident response protocols pay due heed to the provisions of the NCP, and incorporate its processes and powers into their own standard response procedures. This is especially true for developers who are still relatively new to an offshore environment which is getting ever busier."
The NCP states that the MCA is responsible for co-ordinating the UK's response to a major marine pollution incident. It then sets out the roles and responsibilities of other bodies that may become involved including the the Department for Transport (DfT), the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), harbour authorities and the operators of offshore installations.
The NCP refers to 'marine pollution' as "pollution by oil or other hazardous substances". This means oil of any description or other prescribed substances under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. Marine pollution will also include any other substance that is "liable to create hazards to human health, to harm living resources and marine life, to damage amenities or to interfere with other legitimate uses of the sea". Although the NCP is designed to deal with marine pollution from shipping and offshore installations, the MCA is also tasked with supporting the various national environmental regulators including the Environment Agency, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency in the event of large shore-based spills affecting UK waters.
Due to the severity and speed at which incidents that cause marine pollution may develop, the MCA has certain powers to respond to a marine pollution incident to protect the overriding public interest. The NCP states that the Secretary of State's Representative (SOSREP), who acts as a representative for the Secretaries of State for Transport and Energy and Climate Change, is charged with removing or mitigating the "risk to persons, property and the UK environment" in the event of an incident. Overall responsibility for any clean-up activities lies with the MCA, in the event of an incident at sea, or the relevant local authority in the event of a shoreline incident.
Simon Colvin, an environmental law expert with Pinsent Masons, said that the updated NCP was "timely". The new version was designed to include lessons learned from the response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the Total North Sea gas leak earlier this year.
"The consultation sees the introduction of Oil Pollution Emergency Plans (OPEPs) for those in the oil and gas industry," he said. "The proposal is that these are based on a 'worst case' scenario. The lines of communication and the tiered response in the event of an incident have also been refined to ensure the most effective response depending on the nature of the incident."
However he warned that the offshore industry would likely be "concerned" about the impact of the new plan, which "raises the bar in a number of areas".
SOURCE: The Maritime and Coastguard Agency