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Once oil is spilled at sea, it will naturally spread, fragment and disperse under the influence of wind, waves and currents. For spills in coastal waters, the oil will often drift towards the shore and become stranded due to the action of waves and tides. In order to contain the oil at the spill site, recover the oil floating on the sea and clean-up any oil that might become stranded on the shore, there are a variety of techniques that can be employed. The prevailing weather and sea conditions, the characteristics of the oiled shoreline and the nature of the oil can all combine to pose challenges to any clean-up operation.
Several options are available to respond to oil at sea and can be considered in three broad strategies; containment and recovery, in-situ burning and dispersant application. The selection of the most appropriate strategy will depend on many factors, including; the response resources available, the national and local regulations on oil spill response, the spill scenario and the physical and ecological characteristics of the area impacted by the spill.
Shoreline Clean-Up and Response
The majority of ship-source oil spills occur close to the coast and, as a result, many spills result in contamination of shorelines. Oil reaching stranding on the shore can cause significant environmental and economic impacts and may also largely determine the political and public perception of the scale of the incident, as well as the over costs.
When oil does reach the shoreline, considerable effort may be required to clean the affected areas. It is therefore essential that comprehensive and well-rehearsed arrangements for shoreline clean-up are included in contingency plans. The techniques available for shoreline clean-up are relatively straightforward and do not normally require specialised equipment. However, inappropriate techniques and poor organisation can aggravate the impacts caused by the oil itself.
Explore Documents on Response Techniques
It is often observed after large oil spills that there is pressure to review and change the oil spill prevention and emergency response system. In recent years this was true following the SEA EMPRESS (1996) which resulted in a reorganisation of responsibilities in the UK, the ERIKA (1999) which resulted in new IMO rules on tanker standards and the BALTIC CARRIER (2001) which resulted in a HELCOM review of response techniques.
Based on ITOPF's extensive experience of spill clean-up around the world and quantitative data from recent spills in the UK, France, Turkey and Argentina, the paper will examine the wide range of technical, organisational, logistic and financial problems facing those responsible for managing shoreline clean-up operations.
The subject of oil spill dispersants has attracted greater attention in recent years as more countries have sought to develop legislation permitting their use. Claims about the improved effectiveness of 'new generation' dispersants coupled with concern about possible toxic effects have created a confused and emotionally charged arena in which to debate this topic.
The paper begins by reviewing the dramatic reduction in the incidence of major tanker spills since the beginning of the 1980s. The paper then focuses on the factors that determine the seriousness of marine oil spills and the fundamental technical difficulties of combating them at-sea, in coastal waters and on shorelines.