ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday April 27, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 48

Risks that go with oil exploration

I write with reference to the news item, “Marine Pollution: New Laws Coming”, which appeared in The Sunday Times of April 20. I wish to point out that the law relating to marine pollution is already in place as per “Marine Pollution Act No. 59 of 1981”. Part one of this Act refers to the establishment of the “Marine Pollution Prevention Authority”. This authority has been functioning for some time. The late Rear Admiral H. Ananda Silva was a former chairman of this authority.

It is interesting to note that a “South-Asia Marine Pollution Emergency Action Plan” was formulated under a joint project of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). Several regional-workshops were conducted in 1989.

In the event of a major oil pollution incident along our shores, Sri Lanka will not be able to tackle the problem alone. We will need the assistance of neighbouring countries such as India, Thailand and Singapore.

The news item states that “the Act will also lay down the steps to be taken by those engaged in the exploration of natural resources, including petroleum, and related activity to prevent pollution.”

Part VII of the existing Act spells out the Implementation of International Conventions. Offshore oil exploration is closely related to shipping. Oil rigs have to be considered as vessels or floating structures, and made subject to Maritime Safety Regulations and Environmental Regulations. Adequate legal measures and precautions covering oil exploratory activities can be ensured by amending the existing legislation, rather than by introducing new laws.

We must not forget such major maritime catastrophes as Tory Canyon, Exxon Valdez and the fires that raged on North Sea oil rigs. These disasters had a seriously adverse impact on the environment. Sri Lanka must be ready to tackle such dangers and challenges when moving into a relatively new area such as oil exploration.

By C. S. Fernando, Former Deputy Director, Merchant Shipping

Reporter's Note: The Marine Pollution Prevention Act No 59 of 1981 will be repealed once the new Act comes into operation. The staff, property and activities of the existing Marine Pollution Prevention Authority will be absorbed into the similar body to be constituted under the new Act.

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