June 16, 2024

Is Kenya Ready for Oil Spill Disaster

By Andrew Mwangura

Email, thecoastnewspaper@gmail.com

World Maritime Day this year is expected to take place aboard the Maltese  flagged MV LOGOS HOPE on 29th September.

The vessel is on a 45-day visit to Mombasa and has been hosting book fair aboard the vessel.

This year’s theme is “MARPOL at 50 – our commitment goes on”.

Many Kenyans will recall 20th May, 2018 when Mombasa experienced oil spillage caused by a cargo train hauling some 250,000 liters of super petrol, after it derailed as it negotiated a sharp bend near Kibarani.

The derailment caused a major spillage of the highly inflammable fuel forcing the government to close the Makupa Causeway which is the main link between the island and Mombasa west mainland.

The train which was shunting from Mombasa to Nairobi was hauling 16 wagons of fuel belonging to Vivo Energy when the accident occurred.

This reminds us of the major scare in April 2015 when a Singapore-flagged dry bulk carrier JS Danube ran aground after hitting a rock some two nautical miles off Kenya’s port of Mombasa.

Despite the fact that the grounding happened close to the port, Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) started the rescue operations seven hours after the accident.

 MT Ratna Incident

It also reminds us of the 2005 oil spill from Indian oil tanker MT Ratna Shalini, which spread to shoreline causing environmental and property damage.

MT Ratna Shalini laden with 80,000 tons of crude oil was damaged as she berthed at the Mombasa Port oil terminal on April 7th 2005.

One of her tanks loaded with 3,000 tons of crude oil was punctured on the starboard side of the vessel and about 200 tons of oil spilled into the sea.

Pollution control experts from the Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA), KPA, the oil spill Mutual Aid Group and Kenya Navy managed to contain the spill.

However, due to un-preparedness and ill-equipment the oil spill spread to the coastline about 5 km away from the port and some spread for about 150 cubic meters inside the port area.

 Business as Usual

Since 7th April 2005 when the oil spill occurred no assessment has been carried out on the property damage, environmental damage or loss of income to fishing community.

Kenya is among the 86 member states of the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (IOPCF), but owing to its outdated maritime laws, the owners of the ill-fated vessel will only pay USD $1 million.

It beats logic on what criteria did the government of Kenya government use to arrive at the USD $1 million penalty. For one, it was too early to quantify the damage caused by the oil spill.

Scientifically, the damage can only be quantified after an assessment that can only be done after two (2) weeks when the effects of ecological manifestation will start showing.

The ill-fated vessel was a single hull-tanker built in 1987 and she was phased out in August 2005 as per the new International Maritime Organisation (IMO) requirement.

The spillage came after a new IMO regulation that bans carrying heavy grade oil in single-hull tankers that came into effect on April 5th, 2005.

 IMO Rules

The new IMO requirement is designed to reduce the risk of spills from oil tankers involved in low-energy collisions or groundings.

MT Ratna Shalini was owned by India steamship of Kolkata, India.

The coastal waters of many African countries contain some of the world’s richest ecosystems, characterized by coral reefs, sea grass meadows, mangrove forests, estuaries and floodplain swamps.

The ecosystems are not only an important source for essential products for mankind, including foods, medicine, raw materials and recreational facilities, but also provide ecological services that directly benefit the coastal zone.

Approximately 39 km of shoreline along which 27 fish landing sites are located, 22 kilometers were heavily impacted by oil spills.

Shorelines consisted of a mixture of sand, pebbles and mangroves as well as seawalls.

Fishing and Mari culture activities taken along the affected area included intertidal harvesting of marine products, inshore fishing with dugout canoes and set nets, crab culture farms and on shore hatcheries producing a range of marine products.

Many of these activities also suffered the direct effects of the oil spill.

Apart from the environmental damage to marine organisms and mangroves, the fishing communities also suffered heavy losses of income due to property damage caused by the oil spill.

The Indian Oil tanker, Mt. Ratna Shalin is still fresh in our memories at the Port of Mombasa. It is therefore necessary for all the concerned Kenyan authorities to put all the required contingency measures in place to ensure rapid response just in case an accidental spill occurs.

There is an immediate need to release the Mt. Ratna Shalin incident report by the Kenya government on the extent of environmental, and property damage occasioned by that particular spill.

 Quiet NEMA

It is surprising that until now the Kenya National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) has not issued the assessment report even as claims are rife that the extent of damage was more than the US$1 million compensation stated by the Kenyan authorities.

Governmental organizations concerned with the matter must involve all the stakeholders and particularly the fishing community, community based organizations and civil society organizations.

A revised schedule for the phasing out of single-hull tankers and a new regulation banning carrying of heavy grade oil in single-hull oil tankers entered into force on April 5, 2005.

The measures were adopted in December 2003 as amendments to Annex I of the MARPOL Convention, following the November 2002 sinking of the oil tanker Prestige off the Spanish coast.

It specifies that tankers of single-hull construction should be phased out or converted into double-hull according to a schedule based on their year of delivery.

Our Maritime laws require ship owners to pay a paltry Ksh10,000 ($129) in case of an oil spill along Kenyan territorial waters. This need urgent review for posterity.

In August 2005, a single hull ship, MT Genmar Commander, carrying 87,000 tons of crude oil offloaded its cargo at Mombasa Port despite calls by environmentalists and maritime lawyers to have the vessel barred from entering Kenyan waters.

 Elusive Compensation 

Compensation is yet to be paid because Kenya has no laws to force the ship owners to pay the claim. The owners committed a bond of Ksh78 million (about $1 million) which the company is yet to pay.

The double-hull requirements for oil tankers are designed to reduce the risk of oil spills from tankers involved in low energy collisions or grounding.

Under the phase-out schedule, “Category 1” single hull oil tankers will not be allowed to trade after April 5, ships delivered on or before April 5, 1982 or earlier or after their anniversary date in 2005.

“Category 1” are oil tankers, commonly known as Pre-MARPOL tankers of 20,000 tons deadweight and above carrying crude oil, fuel oil, heavy diesel oil or lubricating oil as cargo.

This category also includes tankers of 30,000 tons deadweight and above carrying other oils, which do not comply with the requirements for protectively located segregated ballast tanks.

“Category 2” oil tankers, which have some level of protection from protectively located segregated ballast tank requirements, were phased out according to their age up by 2010.

 Pollution Bill 

The government of Kenya, through the office of the Attorney General, was to enact the Marine Pollution Bill, as recommended by a taskforce on the Review of Maritime Laws.

The Bill is a comprehensive legislation to domesticate international conventions dealing with marine pollution.

Coast guard service should strengthen the existing enforcement measures, for instance, stopping risk-bearing vessels from docking at the sea ports.

KMA should enforce the existing law in order to prevent the marine environmental degradation in Kenya’s waters.

Unless this is done, we can expect many substandard and unseaworthy ships to dock at our sea ports with impunity, endangering our marine life and environment.

Kenya lies within a busy tanker route to the Middle East and that pollution occurring in the high seas is likely to pollute Kenyan waters.

Andrew Mwangura is a Public Intellectual at Nautical Advisory Services

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