Managing oil spills through prevention

Managing oil spills through prevention

-Press release-

Miko Marine details how the Norwegian Coastal Administration is turning to innovation to meet the challenges in the maritime environment.

Over 20 years ago the International Maritime Organization (IMO) recognised that the best way of dealing with oil pollution was to prevent it happening in the first place. Because of this, in 1993 a requirement was introduced for all new tankers to be built with double hulls so they could survive a modest scrape without leaking their cargo.

In 1998 a US study concluded that ships fitted with electronic chart display information systems (ECDIS) would actually be more cost effective than double hulls in preventing pollution – simply by improving navigation so that ships do not run aground and damage their hulls. The ship’s GPS position is shown on an electronic chart in a way that can be understood by anyone, so dangers can be seen and avoided. The IMO subsequently introduced a requirement for the compulsory carriage of ECDISs and their use is now widespread in addition to double hulls.

Marine navigation has improved further with the introduction of the automatic identification system, which enables vessels to identify each other and avoid collisions. As with ECDISs, this is now being phased in throughout the international shipping industry, yet, despite all of these innovations, ships are still being sunk. One of the common reasons for this is often due to the ship losing engine power and being driven helplessly aground by wind and sea.

Norwegian leadership

Norway was the first country in the world to require its fast ferries to carry ECDISs, and it is now leading the way with its adoption of a new system developed to prevent the uncontrolled drifting of ships. The Norwegian Coastal Administration is currently taking delivery of two ShipArrestor systems that will be available for deployment on ships anywhere along its 2,000-mile coastline.

The ShipArrestor is a parachute-shaped sea anchor that is flown by helicopter to a ship that may be drifting helplessly. It may also be rolling severely and at risk of breaking up due to hull stresses, as happened with the tankers Erica and Prestige. The helicopter lowers a loop of chain around the ship’s winches and deck gear on the bow and then lays out a line upwind that ends in the sea anchor, which will immediately turn even the biggest supertanker bow-on to the wind. This stops the dangerous rolling and halves the speed of its drift so that a rescue tug can have more time to reach the ship, pick up the ShipArrestor’s line and tow it to safety before it runs aground.

The ShipArrestor will enter service in Norway this year and is expected to be followed by another new invention called the Moskito. This overcomes the problem of oil leaking from wrecked ships. Many of the thousands of ships sunk during the Second World War now have 70 years of corrosion eating at their plates. The day when the pollutants inside the tanks are released draws inexorably closer, and the only options available for protecting the coastline are to either seal the wreck or to recover the oil before it can escape.

Environmental protection

With ship sealing being costly and difficult, the Moskito oil removal system creates a new option for pollution prevention through its ability to be fixed magnetically to the outside of the wreck by divers or remotely operated vehicles. From there it can drill into the corroding ship and penetrate tank walls up to 40mm (1.5 inches) thick and reach the oil trapped inside. The Moskito’s drill is then followed by a patented spring latch coupling for a hose that can be used to empty the tank without allowing any of its contents to escape into the sea at any time during the process. If the oil has been in the tank for so long that, despite remaining a pollution threat, it has become too thick for it to be pumped easily, the same tool can be used to connect other hoses to the tank, through which steam or oil thinners can be injected to facilitate the oil’s removal.

By aiming to stop oil becoming a pollutant in the first place, innovation can create new options for governments and administrations seeking to protect their coastlines. If Norway maintains its reputation as a perceptive early adopter of successful marine technology, we can expect to see a wider spread of new ideas as other countries follow its example.