Oil Spilled Due to oil-separator’s malfunction

It became a common sight in Brest to see a ship putting into port because it has been intercepted by the Navy and accused of voluntary pollution. A glittering wake has been observed, and a photograph taken of the ship’s wake. The Tribunal, with only this proof and with the plane’s pilot as the only witness, decides to release the ship on bail in the order of 200,000 / 400,000 Euros. The shipmaster, more often than not, admits the spill and attributes the spill to a faulty separator. The requested sum is paid and the ship leaves Brest, not without delay; PSC has its role to play and there may be a week-end. The procedure seems to us questionable for several reasons.

• The only proof is a photograph. That phosphorescent wake may not be an oil spill
and, if it is, may be attributed to another ship, as, in the vicinity of the TSS they follow each other closely.
The oil spill cannot be but small. A reported phosphorescent wake, say 15 or 20m
wide, 5 or 10km long, less than 1mm thick, means a quantity of a few hundreds litres
of oil, in some cases less than 100 litres. This rather symbolic pollution disappears

• The responsibility of an eventual oil-separator’s malfunction should not be attributed to the shipmaster alone. Other bodies should be held responsible for that, chief engineer, manufacturer, supplier, various inspectors and surveyors including the PSC Inspector. In other fields of transport, air, rail and road, a technical malfunction is not automatically attributed to the pilot or conductor.
The installation of separators aboard ships dates from about 1970 and became
compulsory recently under IMO rules. It is, then, relatively recent equipment. This is why our colleague Georges Verdier, Chief Engineer, presents hereunder a short
description of this piece of machinery and the way it functions.

• One final point. Why does the shipmaster so often admit the spill? One can admit, à-priori, that the captain does not knowingly throw oil polluted water overboard,
otherwise he would do it at night or farther from the shore. Is he incited to admit the spill by his employer? It may be that admitting the spill and paying the required deposit will shorten the judicial procedure and allow the ship to leave earlier. A disturbed ship’s schedule means a considerable loss of money.

Industrial Pollution Prevention