Over 90% of all global trade goods are transported by ships (Walker, et al., 2019). Despite being an industry with such size and importance, it’s not well regulated. International shipping standards are often reactive instead of preventive, and only driven by compromises of the industry (World Wildlife Fund, n.d.).
The oil shipping industry has been using single-hulled tankers as the backbone of their fleets (World Wildlife Fund, n.d.; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, n.d.). As suggested by their name, single-hulled tankers only have one shell between the oil and the ocean. They’re prone to be breached more easily than the double-hulled design when a tanker is grounded. However, the oil shipping industry wasn’t too inclined to make the switch, due to the increased cost and complication for the double-hulled construction. Double-hulled tankers also require more frequent maintenance, which increases the operation cost.
The US government only stepped in and started to phase-out single-hulled tankers after Exxon Valdez had a spilling incident near Alaska in 1989, which was the largest single oil spill in US coastal waters at that time. The rest of the world was still lagging behind until another single-hulled tanker Erika spilled oil near France in 1999. Only then the International Maritime Organization set the target for phasing-out all single-hulled vessels by 2015. Furthermore, IMO had finally moved the deadline from 2015 to 2010 after Prestige (also a single-hulled tanker, what a shocker!) had sunk off the coast of Galicia, Spain. Although “upgrading” to double-hulled design doesn’t guarantee all tankers to be spill-proof, the collision of SKS Satilla and a submerged oil rig in 2009 was a prime example of how effective the double-hulled design could be. Of the 41 million gallons (around 155 million liters) of crude oil on board, not a drop of it was spilled.
These unfortunate incidents really show how crucial preventive standards or regulations are for the shipping industry. It’s one thing you don’t care about the ocean and its inhabitants. Crude oil and oil tankers? They are your valuable merchandise and assets. Please make sure you don’t spill it everywhere and ground them every once in a while.
Want to learn more about the oil spill incidents and their cleanup efforts? Click on the links below!
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (n.d.). A Final Farewell to Oil Tankers with Single Hulls. Retrieved from https://response.restoration.noaa.gov/about/media/final-farewell-oil-tankers-single-hulls.html
Walker, T. R., Adebambo, O., Del Aguila Feijoo, M. C., Elhaimer, E., Hossain, T., Johnston Edwards, S., . . . Zomorodi, S. (2019). Environmental Effects of Marine Transportation. World Seas: an Environmental Evaluation, 3, 505-530. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-805052-1.00030-9
World Wildlife Fund. (n.d.). Marine problems: Shipping. Retrieved from https://wwf.panda.org/our_work/oceans/problems/shipping/