The risk of major oil spills, while significantly reduced over the last number of decades, continues to pose a significant threat to the fragile ecosystems and coastlines of states around the world. Such incidents, whether caused by offshore oil rigs, pipelines, damaged tankers or transport ship, often result in environmental damage that can last for decades.
Animals, and the critical habitats on which they depend, are particularly vulnerable. Oil can clog the blowholes of dolphins and whales, making it hard for them to breathe and communicate. It can coat the fur of otters and seals, as well as the feathers of sea birds, leaving them vulnerable to hypothermia. The oil also prevents the birds from flying, many of whom end up drowning. Other birds and mammals that live near the coast, meanwhile, can be poisoned by the oil, causing nervous system, lung, and liver disorders.
Preparation and cooperation is therefore essential to ensuring a timely, efficient, and coordinated response to limit such damage. This is why the Nairobi Convention, in collaboration with the International Maritime Organization (IMO), held a regional workshop on ‘Cooperation in preparedness and response to marine pollution incidents’ in Zanzibar, Tanzania on 03 – 05 March 2020. Organized under the SAPPHIRE project, the conference aimed at building on the progress made in regional cooperation in response to marine pollution incidents.
The forum brought together key partners and governments – focal points responsible for oil spill preparedness and response issues – to promote the implementation of the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation (OPRC) and OPRC HNS Protocol. This protocol obliges countries to establish measures for dealing with pollution incidents, either nationally or in co-operation with other countries.
The Nairobi Convention has its own Protocol on the issue, called Concerning Co-operation in Combating Marine Pollution in Cases of Emergency in the Eastern African Region. This protocol requires that Parties co-operate to combat pollution in cases of emergency and calls for the development of contingency plans and notification procedures.
As a result of the workshop, the Nairobi Convention Secretariat was tasked with the coordination of the implementation of the Regional Contingency Plan for Preparedness for and Response to Major Marine Pollution Incidents in the Western Indian Ocean (the RCP). Participants further discussed a series of proposed actions to support implementation of the plan, including updating a directory of competent national authorities and contact points in charge of receiving alert messages within the framework of the RCP.
The participating countries recommended the establishment of a steering committee/ regional working group for the regional agreement who will be tasked with developing a regional implementation plan, including coming up with a sustainable financing mechanism of the RCP, organizing a table-top exercise to test the RCP and conducting annual communication drills, joint multilateral exercises and capacity building.
For more information, please contact Sinikinesh Beyene Jimma at Sinikinesh.firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the SAPPHIRE project, please click here.