112/17/Gen.Inf. How to avoid small spills becoming large claims

Despite a great reduction in the number of larger oil spills worldwide, numerous smaller, operational oil spills occur each year. The Britannia P&I Club warns to take into account even the small spill as it may not result in small claims.

The Club has been advised by Brazilian lawyers Siano & Martins Advogados Associados that it is important to treat a small spill carefully, even if initially it may appear logical to close the file after initial penalties have been paid to authorities and the clean up costs have been dealt with. There are several specific legal issues which create a problem for ship owners:
• Large civil public actions may be filed, alleging contamination of habitats or organisms and seeking substantial environmental damages. These may be further increased by the application of ’moral’ punitive damages, interest and inflation.
• Recent Brazilian Superior Court of Justice decisions have held that there is no time bar limitation for civil public actions (based on the long-term nature of the environmental damage)
• It may be possible for prosecutors to claim for damages to the environment without proving loss.
It is essential to base the defence of any such claim on solid evidence, properly preserved. The scientific assessment of material damages to the environment will be the best way to challenge presumed damages calculated by hypothetical mathematical models. Actions which may need to be undertaken include:
• finding out the potential source or sources of pollutants in the vicinity of the incident through field sampling;
• determining the scale and extent of any pollution release including the nature of any shoreline oiling and the habitats potentially impacted; and
• investigating the potential impact on local fisheries and tourism.

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Thank you & Best Regards,

Eng. Dimitrios Nikolaos Spanos
Lead Maritime Auditor / Principal Surveyor
Member of IRCA, IIMS, ELINT, HELMEPA & Nautical Institute

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