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Purposeful Jettison of Petroleum Cargo
Gordon W. Paulsen
The discussion today focuses on jettisoning, the discharging of some cargo into the sea in order to lighten a grounded ship and possibly save it from further peril. In other words, by creating a comparatively small spill a large, catastrophic spill may be averted. Such actions in time-critical situations are provided for in treaties to which h the United States is party, but U.S. statutes seem to prohibit them.
At the written request of the U.S. Navy Supervisor of Salvage, the Marine Board Committee on Marine Salvage Issues convened this symposium to address the issue of intentional jettison of cargo: its significance and implications, the need for clarification of statutory and treaty law, and implications of technology advances—especially oil spill trajectory forecasting—for time-critical decision making.
The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90) is probably the most discussed piece of legislation having to do with maritime matters in recent years. There are some aspects of our society that regard it as the most important, in the sense that it has done the most good, of any piece of maritime legislation. There are other parts of our society—the maritime community, for example—that don't quite see it that way. They see all kinds of problems.
Today we are focusing on the question of jettisoning. The question of salvage was discussed in depth about ten years ago in sessions organized by the National Academy of Sciences and the Marine Board. There have been a lot of changes since then. The salvage capability isn't quite what it was then. The need may be greater or it may be less. The incidents are fewer, but they are bigger. We have to focus on all these factors.
This symposium format will be based on two forms of participation; presentation of formal commissioned papers and panel discussions. There will be ample opportunity throughout for audience questions and comments.
We are going to begin this symposium with a video presentation of the grounding of the Argo Merchant in 1976. The Argo Merchant, as you will recall, was one of the first incidents to focus on the problem of an oil spill in the waters of the United States coastline. This incident will tell us a lot about what can happen when a ship strands versus what should happen. The video indicates that the extreme measure of cargo jettison was considered but government permission was not granted and it was not done. The result was an oil spill that is still talked about eighteen years later.
Gordon W. Paulsen practices admiralty law in New York City with the firm of Healy & Bailie. He is a member of the Permanent Advisory Board of the Admiralty Law Institute (Tulane University), a past president of the Maritime Law Association of the United States, and is a titulary member of the Comité Maritime International.