Maritime Disasters Trigger Regulatory Changes

– Anne Bouyssou


38 years ago, the very large crude carrier (VLCC) AMOCO CADIZ capsized off the coast of Brittany (France). While carrying crude oil from the Persian Gulf to Rotterdam, the ship experienced a technical failure of its steering system and ran aground. The AMOCO CADIZ broke in two parts and the whole cargo (227,000 tonnes of Iranian and Arabian crude oil) spilled into the coastal environment.


The Amoco Cadiz Oil Spill, 1978 Photo: Wikipedia

This catastrophe triggered numerous regulatory changes.

The accident investigation revealed an inadequate towing system on board the tanker that led the AMOCO CADIZ to drift on the rocks. Today, all tankers have specific towing structures and emergency towing equipment (see resolution MSC.35(63) and SOLAS regulation II-1/3-4).

A mandatory traffic separation scheme was set up off the coast of Ushant Island in Brittany.

The first Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control was adopted in January 1982.

The accident also prompted coastal States to claim more prerogatives. According to UNCLOS Article 221(1), Coastal States have jurisdiction “to take and enforce measures beyond the territorial sea proportionate to the actual or threatened pollution or threat of pollution following upon a marine casualty or acts relating to such a casualty, which may reasonably be expected to result in major harmful consequences”

GMT 2016_Anne Bouyssou_Abeille Flandre_WCT 3.jpg

The Abeille Flandre, one of the four powerful tugs built in Norway. The vessel belongs to the Bourbon group and is operated by the French navy.  The construction of this vessel was a response to the devastating Amoco Cadiz oil spill catastrophe. Photo: Anne Bouyssou


At the national level, a committee in charge of coordinating maritime public action among ministries (Comité Interministériel de la Mer) and an executive body under the authority of the Prime minister (Mission interministérielle de la Mer) were established. More severe legislation for tankers transiting France’s territorial sea was adopted. Finally, France increased its tug capacity with four powerful tugs (ABEILLE BOURBON, ABEILLE FLANDRE, ABEILLE LANGUEDOC et ABEILLE LIBERTE).

History shows that environmental consciousness and regulations come up in reaction to noticeable disasters or identified upcoming risks. Proactive regulations to prevent environmental damage are rarely drawn up before an accident happens and are more rarely binding. International environmental protection regulations originate from the salient visibility of damage. Visible damage and social perception are essential signals for the initiation of a regulatory response.

-Anne Bouyssou

Reference :

Picture : ABEILLE FLANDRE in the port of Sète (France) (Anne Bouyssou, 2016)


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