Oil Spill Response at Sea
for a Sustainable Marine Space Planning
Senior Engineer, China Institute of Navigation
As we know, marine spatial planning is to establish a rational use of marine space,
and to balance the demands for development and the need to protect marine
environment. When exploring, exploiting and utilizing the ocean, it is unavoidable
that the accidents may occur，for example，there have been very serious oil spills at
sea: Deepwater horizon oil spill in The Gulf of Mexico, Hebei Spirit oil spill in the
water of Republic of Korea, which damaged the ocean resources, led to environmental
disaster and produced very bad economical impact. Therefore, it is very important to
be prepared to respond swiftly to oil spill accidents at sea in order to mitigate the
damage and impact to marine environment, and to ensure a sustainable marine spatial
planning. Here I would like to introduce how China addresses the issue of
environmental protection to ensure a sustainable marine space planning by focusing
on oil spill response strategy at sea.
My presentation mainly covers three parts: oil spill response management
mechanism， oil spill response capacity building， and the compensation regime for
oil pollution damage
1. Oil Spill Response Management Mechanism
1.1 Legal System for Oil Spill Response at Sea
Marine environmental protection is a basic national policy. China attaches much
importance to it. As a Contracting State of the OPRC convention as well as its HNS
protocol, China has established a systematic and comprehensive legal system on oil
spill preparedness and response as follows:
- National law
Marine Environmental Protection Law was enacted by the National People's Congress,
which provides general requirements for oil spill preparedness and response at sea.
The responsibility is untaken by several government departments:
Environment protection administration is in charge of pollution prevention and
response from land-sourced spills. Oceanic administration is responsible for oil spill
from offshore industry like oil exploration and exploitation platform. Maritime safety
administration is responsible for oil spill from ships other than fishing ships and
military vessels. Fisheries administration is responsible for oil spill from fishing ships.
Another national law is Emergency Response Law, which was enacted after the
epidemic incident of SARS, this law re-established Chinese emergency response
management system. The system includes “one plan and three regimes”. The plan is
contingency plan; the three regimes are: first the legislation regime for emergency
response; second, response capacity-building mechanism which integrates the strike
teams fromboththe government and the industries; third,risk management regime,
which emphasizesprevention, response, rehabilitation and reconstruction.
- Administrative Regulations
Regulations on Administration of Prevention and Control of Pollution to the Marine
Environment by Vessels, which was implemented in 2010, is one of the most
important legislation in this area. It sets up more detailed requirements on oil spill
response management, such as the responsibilities of government, industries and
relevant parties involved.
To implement these requirements, the Ministry of Transport has enacted the
Regulations of the Emergency Preparedness and Response on Marine Environment
Pollution from Ships. And also, China MSA issued detailed instructions and notices,
such as Instructions on Ship Pollution Response Agreement.
1.2 Contingency Plan System
China has established a comprehensive Contingency Plan (CP) to deal with
ship-sourced pollution accidents of different scales. The CP consists several tiers with
internal linkage, from the national level, regional level, provincial and municipal level,
port level, to ship level.
At central governmental level, China’s emergency response system is consisted of one
General National Emergency Response Plan, different specific plans and the plans of
the related departments.
There are 4 Regional CPs : 《Northern sea area oil spill response contingency plan》,
《Eastern sea area oil spill response contingency plan》, 《Southern sea area oil spill
response contingency plan 》, 《Special sea area oil spill response contingency plan》.
There are 9 Provincial CPs and 58 Municipal and Port CPs.
At industrial level, ports, terminals and other units with potential risk of marine
pollution are required to establish corresponding CPs.
Besides, as per the provisions of related conventions and domestic laws, Tankers
engaging in international voyages, tankers over 150 GT for domestic transportation,
and non-tankers over 400 GT are required to develop Shipboard Oil Pollution
Emergency Plan (SOPEP) approved by competent authority.
All of these CPs have provided clear responsibilities for those involved in oil spill
response, and also procedural action plan whenever oil spill occurs.
In 2010, the State Council designated the Ministry of Transport as the commanding
and coordination agency in the case of major marine oil spill accidents at sea just after
the Dalian 7.16 Pipe Explosion and Spill Accident in2010. Upon the adjustment,
MOT is drafting a new national contingency plan for major oil spill at sea, no matter
it comes from ships, platforms or land. China’s marine oil spill response management
mechanism will be further enhanced in the near future.
1.3 International Cooperation
To implement the related Conventions and Protocols such as OPRC and OPRC-HNS
Protocol, China has actively engaged in the bi-lateral and multi-lateral cooperation.
In 2003, China MOT, on behalf of the Chinese Government, signed the Memorandum
of Understanding on Regional Co-operation Regarding Preparedness and Response to
Oil Spills in the Marine Environment of the Northwest Pacific Region and the
NOWPAP Contingency Plan with Japan, Korea and Russia. During “Hebei Spirit”
accidents occurred in 2007, China provided international assistance to Korea on oil
spill response according to NOWPAP CP for the first time in history.
Besides, China has signed with the US, Japan, Korea and the ASEAN countries
agreements on maritime cooperation, which include cooperation in marine pollution
response. China is willing to participate actively in the cooperation of marine oil spill
response, and to make joint effort with the international community to protect the
2. China’s Capacity-building on Oil Spills Response
At present, China developed a general policy of capacity-building on oil spill
response. Firstly, a capacity-building plan should be developed by central and local
governments, then relevant government departments and industries shall invest and
build stockpiles, establish strike teams according to these capacity-building plan.
Meanwhile, ports, terminals and professional response companies are also required to
invest in response facilities and equipments. In such way, central and local
governments and industries together make efforts on capacity-building on oil spill
The strike teams of the central government are mainly aiming at major accidents at
sea areas with high risk of oil spill, while the local governments mainly deal with
accidents within their respective jurisdiction areas or ports. For the ports and
terminals, the objective is the small accidents within port water areas; Ships, in the
end, are required to keep appropriate capacity on board and sign response contracts
with local professional strike team to fulfill ship’s responsibilities.
Following above-mentioned principles, central government has already set up two
dedicated strike teams, i.e. Yantai Oil Spill Response Technical Center and
Qinhuangdao Oil Spill Response Center, and now is building oil spill response
stockpiles in major ports, such as Dalian, Qingdao, Shanghai, Ningbo, Zhuhai along
coast and some sites such as Nangjing, Chongqing, Wanzhou along the Yangtze River.
All of these sites are assessed as high risk of oil spill.
Even though the efforts made by central government as above, there are still some
shortcomings and problems as follows:
Firstly, all of the stockpiles can only cover some areas with high risk but not all the
coastal sea or inland river;
Secondly, those stockpiles is aimed at oil spill scale at 500 to 1000 tons maximum,
beyond that, assistance from others is necessary;
Thirdly, the equipments or response vessels in coastal stockpiles is designed for major
oil spill at open sea, for those small spill near shore, other response equipments or
vessels from ports or industries is necessary.
At industry level, the Regulations also provide that ports, terminals and other units
engaging in ship repairing, salvage and recycling should make sure that their response
capacity is consistent with the risk of pollution when carrying out their respective
Moreover, the Regulations have initiated response agreement mechanism for
ship-sourced pollution accidents, in order to urge shipping companies to fulfill their
duties of oil and/or HNS spill response. It requires that ships carrying bulk liquid
cargo with pollution hazard and ships over 10,000 GRT are to sign response
agreement with qualified SPRO (ship pollution response organization) before entering
/leaving port, carrying out operations. Qualified SPROs are classified into four levels,
each of which should satisfy the requirements of response capacity as provided by the
Regulations on Emergency Preparedness and Response on Marine Environment
Pollution from Ships. At present, 124 different level SPROs have received
qualification certificates, among them, the total numbers of level-one SPROs is 92.
Generally speaking, in terms of geographic coverage, almost all the major coastal
ports have one or more SPROs, and mechanism has been implemented smoothly in
most of sea ports.
Next step for China is to integrate the capacity, such as stockpiles and strike teams
among government and industry to make it more efficient. In the near future, the
overall response capacity of China will be further promoted.
3. China’s Ship-sourced Oil Pollution Damage Compensation mechanism
By adopting the principle of Polluter Pays, China has established her own two-tiered
legal mechanism for Oil Pollution Damage Compensation. The first tier is that ships
should maintain compulsory pollution damage liability insurance based on the
limitation of liability. The second tier is Domestic Oil Pollution Damage
Compensation Fund, which is contributed by owners receiving persistent oil cargo so
that ship-owners and oil cargo owners share the responsibility.
China is Contracting State of CLC92 and FUND92 (which is only applicable to Hong
Kong); China acceded to the Bunker Convention on 2008. To protect the interest of
victim and marine environment, China has developed Regulations imposing stricter
liability to polluters:
Firstly, all vessels carrying persistent oil as cargo, whether engaging in international
voyages or domestic voyages, shall maintain oil pollution liability insurance. The
minimum amount insured shall not be lower than the ship owners’ limitation amount
provided by CLC92. That means that small tankers carrying less than 2000 tons oil
also shall have compulsory insurance.
Secondly, although HNS convention is still not yet come into force, for vessels
carrying non-persistent oil as cargo, shall also maintain compulsory insurance. The
minimum amount shall not be lower than the limitation amount provided by the
Maritime Code of the People’s Republic of China.
Finally, other Vessels of 1000 GRT and above carrying non-oil as cargo shall maintain
bunker pollution damage liability insurance as provided by the Bunker Convention.
The minimum amount shall not be lower than the limitation amount provided by the
The second tier regime to protect the interests of victim and marine environment is the
domestic fund for oil pollution damage compensation. Actually, since 2003, two
Ministries, the Ministry of Communication MOC (now MOT) and the Ministry of
Finance (MOF) have undertaken to draft a decree for establishing the Fund. Till 2012,
the regulations of domestic fund have been issued by the two ministries. Now, China
MSA, as the secretariat, is preparing for collecting contributions and developing
detailed rules on management of the domestic fund.
I have shared some information on oil spill preparedness and response strategy in
China, also recent development on domestic fund for oil pollution damage
compensation. It is still premature to say that the capability of oil spill response is
enough comparing with the risk of oil spill in China now. Efforts are needed to
promote the capability, by government and industries, domestic and abroad.