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Jae Sundaram


A significant amount of marine oil pollution is vessel-source with another being non-vessel-source originating from offshore oil platform operations. The world has witnessed a number of oil spill disasters since the 1950s including the Deepwater Horizon incident in the United States, the Montara Wellhead Platform in Australia and the continuing oil spill incidents in the Niger Delta, Nigeria. Technological advances mean that offshore operators now venture further out from coastlines to explore for, and exploit hydrocarbon reserves, thus increasing the crude oil output, and also the possibility of oil pollution incidents from offshore platforms. The International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution 1969 and the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Oil Pollution Damage 1971 were developed under the leadership of the International Maritime Organization in response to the increasing incidents of vessel-source oil pollution of the marine environment. Since the entry into force of these Conventions the membership has increased and the incidents of vessel-source oil pollution reduced. Efforts made by the Comité Maritime International (CMI), as early as in 1977, to develop a uniform civil liability convention for claims arising from offshore operations did not come to fruition, and very little progress has been made in finding a solution. Currently, there is no uniform international civil liability regime in place for oil pollution compensation claims arising for damages caused by offshore operations. This article explores the reasons behind the lack of a coherent legal framework to process civil liability claims arising from offshore oil spill incidents, especially when a comprehensive international regulation exists to govern vessel-source and other related forms of marine oil pollution. It argues that the lack of leadership to find a solution is proving to be highly damaging and that there is a strong case and an urgent need to establish a uniform international offshore oil spill liability regime. The article looks at existing regimes, both regional and national, as a way forward to develop an international regime for oil pollution compensation for damages arising from offshore activities.

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