19 August 2011

Phasing out of single hull vessels in Nigeria (part 3):

Impact on the economy and the consequences of languishing behind the deadline set by the United Nations

Last week we examined the implementation procedure adopted by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) under the auspices of the United Nations (UN) by categorizing single hull vessels and setting out deadlines for their eradication.

We also introduced the condition Assessment Scheme (CAS) as the inspection program designed in which certain single hull vessels are assessed and issued a certificate for them to operate within the set deadline.  We highlighted the point that the UN via the amended Annex 1 of the MARPOL convention permits member states the discretion to reject any single hull vessels from their waters even if they have a CAS certificate. We also examined the approach of certain nations and were able to deduct that by their active regulations and implementation they understood that the blood line of the UN regulation is to ensure that our sea and environment are safe. reports  have shown that  since January 2009, the very large crude carrier (VLCC) fleet has dropped from 96 single-hulls (19% share of the fleet) to only 36 (7% share) at present.

In this part, we will examine whether Nigeria really understands the essence of the regulation. We shall also examine certain important biological effects which will result if our waters are not protected. Phasing out single hull vessels is one of many key modes of ensuring the safety of the sea, environment and the economy. We will examine whether Nigeria appreciates these effects by its attitude and legislation.

Does Nigeria understand the essence of the phase out exercise?

I don’t intend to sound like a broken record, however I must emphasize that it is really important that we have in our sight that the essence of the phasing out exercise is to keep the sea and environment safe. Research has shown that 71% of the surface of earth is water and 29% is land. With Only 3% of the 71% as fresh water, and the rest salt water. It started to make more sense why the UN has adopted a strict stance in keeping it safe because its cleanliness and safety is for our own good. I sadly observed that a nation like Nigeria ought to but has no credible track record of environmental awareness and protection. I also observed that it is merely a signatory to several climate change conventions with no serious means of enforcement. It rally leaves one wondering if Nigeria really appreciates the rationale behind the phase out of single hull vessels or is it another extra convention it becomes a member to boost its international ego?

One of the most serious forms of water pollution is in connection with spillage of crude oil, or petroleum, to the marine environment. When spilled, it is dissipated or scattered into the marine environment over time. A process known as oil weathering occurs by spreading, evaporation, dispersion, emulsification, dissolution, oxidation, biodegradation, sedimentation.

It is undisputed that water transport is essential for oil transport across the world especially in Nigeria. While not ignoring the use of pipelines for transporting petroleum products across Nigeria, I discovered that when many hear of oil spills; it is usually associated in the mind of Nigerians with an oil pipeline which may be bust, vandalised, or leaking. However, what we don’t hear often are the oil tankers that spill oil while on transit or oil tankers that collide with one another or are grounded thereby causing oil spillage. It is sparsely reported but is a very recurrent event especially in areas with high volume of oil transhipment, delivery, towing etc.

Biological effects of oil in our sea (marine):

  • It kills organisms and marine animals like fishes, crabs and other crustaceans.
  • Oil suffocates animals and increases the underneath temperatures for plants and animals, planktons, larvae and small marine organisms.
  • Oil poisons algae, disrupts major food chains and decreases the yield of edible crustaceans.
  • It also coats birds, impairing their flight or reducing the insulative property of their feathers, thus making the birds more vulnerable to cold.
  • Oil on water surface also interferes with gaseous interchange at the sea surface and lowers oxygen levels.
  • In a bid to clean oil spills by the use of oil dispersants, serious toxic effects will be exerted on plankton thereby poisoning marine animals. This can further lead to food poisoning and loss of lives.
  • Oil slicks prevent free exchange of oxygen from air and water.
  • Oil slicks prevent sunlight from reaching deeper levels of water where coral thrive, thus limiting food production of plants (photosynthesis).

Consequent effect of oil spill on us:

It has a gradual effect on us by –

  • Contamination of safe drinking and washing waters,
  • Destruction of recreational activities (bathing, boating, angling and diving),
  • Destruction of livelihood,
  • Destruction of Wood fuel,
  • Soil contamination of soil (farmland),
  • Continuous regional crises in the Niger Delta area, the gaseous and liquid components evaporate while some undergo bacterial changes and eventually sink to the bottom by thereby causing contamination of the soil with a gross effect upon terrestrial life (plants and animals).

A plethora of laws are available with the aim to protect the sea which are contained in –

  • Merchant Shipping Act,
  • Oil in Navigable Waters Act,
  • Oil Terminal Dues Act and Piers Regulations,
  • Nigerian Ports Authority Act, Regulations and Bye-laws,
  • Petroleum Act and the regulations made under it namely,
    • Mineral Oils (Safety) Regulations,
    • Petroleum Regulations and
    • Petroleum (Drilling and Production) Regulations;
  • Harmful Waste (Special Criminal Provisions, etc) Act,
  • Federal Environmental Protection Agency Act,
  • National Shipping Policy Act and
  • Merchant Shipping [safe manning, hours of work and Watchkeeping] Regulations and Merchant Shipping [Training and Certification of Seafarers] Regulations of 2001. 

We have been able to examine the certain biological effects of oil in our water and we have also seen that from the list of laws listed, Nigeria has made efforts to protect the sea. (With emphasis on ‘proper enforcement and application’).

However, proper enforcement and application to phase out single hull vessels is a step in the right direction to keeping our waters clean which will go a long way to give credibility to some of these laws passed to protect the environment. We hope the relevant government agencies (specifically NIMASA, NNPC, DPR) are able to appreciate the rationale behind the UN regulation. Next week we shall examine the economic, environmental, and social impact if any if the Federal Government puts its foot down to implement the phase out exercise in accordance with the set deadlines.

Source: Business Day. Kelechukwu O. Okafor. 4 August 2011

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