The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is set to discuss a proposal to restrict Ship-to-Ship (STS) crude oil transfers on the high seas during its upcoming Legal Committee (LEG 110) session from March 20 to 24. This proposal follows a joint communication from Australia, Canada, and the United States expressing concern “in relation to the global liability and compensation regime resulting from the increase in STS transfers on the high seas.”
The communication argues that these transfers “undermine the international order, increase the risk of pollution to nearby coastal States, and threaten the shared liability and compensation regime established under the 1992 Civil Liability Convention, the 1992 Fund Convention and its Supplementary Fund Protocol.”
If the vessels and shipowners involved cannot be identified and held responsible for potential hydrocarbon damage, as is the case with those who operate covertly, it undermines the fundamental principle of “polluter pays.” According to the communication, these practices “unfairly expose” national and local administrations to the cost of response, clean-up, and compensation in the event of an accident, as they cannot be covered by any compensation fund.
Australia, Canada, and the United States are calling on flag States to ensure that tankers flying their flag comply with measures that prohibit or legally regulate ship-to-ship transfers. They also suggest that notification to the flag State be required when conducting such operations and that Port State Control ensures compliance with safety and liability conventions on these vessels.
As a result of sanctions imposed by the EU and the G7 on Russian crude oil and petroleum product exports, these ship-to-ship operations have significantly increased, causing serious environmental concerns in many governments.