Confusion over rules on port oil spills

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 January, 2012, 12:00am


Shipowners with ships calling at mainland ports face tougher oil pollution regulations, but there is still confusion about the way the rules are being implemented at the ports.

All major coastal ports began enforcing the oil-spill regulations from Sunday, 21 months after the marine-pollution legislation became law in March 2010. The delay was caused by maritime-safety officials taking time to approve spill clean-up contractors and finalise procedures for enforcing the rules.

But ship insurers and shipping executives said even after such a lengthy hold-up, there was still a raft of issues that needed to be clarified.

Under the oil-spill and hazardous-material regulations, shipowners or ship managers have to appoint a pollution clean-up contractor to be on stand-by to tackle any spills before their ships arrive at a mainland port. Owners or managers who fail to comply face a fine of up to 50,000 yuan (HK$61,000) and risk having their ship stopped from leaving port. The regulations apply to all sea ports and Nantong on the Yangtze River.

Arthur Bowring, the managing director of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association, said he thought the regulations were likely to be lightly enforced, at least initially.

But the International Group of Protection and Indemnity Clubs, which represents the top 13 global ship insurers, said if no prior agreement had been signed, then it was up to the local maritime-safety administration to decide whether to allow the ship into port. A contract would need to be in place before the ship is allowed to leave.

Pointing to regional differences in enforcement, the UK P&I Club said: 'We have heard that the Ningbo Maritime Safety Administration (MSA) announced that they will delay enforcement of the agreement requirements until February 1. We have also heard that there may be a postponement of the requirements in Zhoushan, but this is also yet to be confirmed.' Tianjin MSA was also delaying full enforcement until March 1.

'The fee mechanism is also complicated, with different tariffs in all ports,' said a senior executive at a Hong Kong-headquartered ship-management company.

One source, closely linked to the anti-pollution industry, said: 'It is a right proper mess.'

Insurers and shipping sources also pointed out that while the vetting of clean-up contractors had been going on for the past two years, about 90 per cent of the firms had only been certified since November.

The China Maritime Safety Administration, based in Beijing, had approved about 100 clean-up contractors nationally, although the five major consortiums authorised so far were only approved last week.

Nine clean-up contractors have been approved by the Maritime Safety Administration to cover ports in Shenzhen with a further 20 approved for other ports in Guangdong.

Pointing to the challenges, one shipping industry executive said maritime safety officials in Shanghai would not accept what was supposed to be a model national agreement produced by China MSA in Beijing governing clean-up operations.

Instead, Shanghai MSA produced its own agreement, in which it holds the charterer of the ship as being initially responsible for any clean-up.

He said Shanghai MSA 'does not seem to understand that the owner has the insurance cover', not the charterer.


The number of deep-water harbours on China's 14,000 kilometres of coastline. Most of them are free of ice year-round