1967 saw the Torrey Canyon oil disaster wreak havoc with the coastline of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Every tidal push saw tar stained waves break onto pristine beaches depositing dead sea birds on a black high tide mark.
40 years on and the beaches of the UK and further afield remain at threat from a variety of hazardous cargoes that skirt the coastline in some of the worlds busiest shipping lanes.
Our over reliance on oil is set to see this trend continue but current shipping legislation is woefully inadequate in giving the protection our coast requires to ensure its future health.
One of the key issues is the routine use of flags of convenience by shipping companies. Registering vessels in far-flung countries, where environmental protection laws are lax and confusing has helped protect many shipping companies from penalties following pollution incidents. It has also allowed systematic abuse of human rights with shipping companies able to push crew to the limits whilst paying a pittance. Crews are often incompetent, inexperienced and therefore able to make mistakes costly mistakes that hit the water environment hard.
With our seas at risk it is vital that shipping companies take more responsibility to improve their performance and shipping regulators crack down on the use of flags of convenience.
In addition SAS believe the most sensitive parts of the UK coastline should receive greater protection against the threat of shipping disasters. We would like to see the designation of such areas as Marine Environmental High Risk Areas (MEHRA’s), which would prevent ships from entering a defined area if it contains potentially toxic cargoes.
But it’s not just tankers that represent a threat a booming cruise ship industry is set to sail from and to UK shores more often. With many cruise ships carrying as many as 5000 people on board, these floating towns have in most cases left trails of raw sewage in their wake as markers of their visit to an area. With solutions available to fully treat sewage on board SAS calls on the industry to make that investment. But only a few ships to date have made that pledge and whilst an improvement in legislation requires some level of improved sewage and wastewater treatment in future years, loopholes in that legislation could allow for poorly treated sewage from ships to continue to be discharged to sea, choking marine wildlife, damaging coastal fauna and putting the unsuspecting recreational water user at risk.
Coming into contact with toxic cargoes such as oil or slicks of cruise ship sewage, represents a significant health risk to recreational water users. Just leaving the water with an oil stained surfboard has ruined many a session. It is SAS’s mission therefore to tackle the toxic tide.