Oil Spills: Law on Liability with Special Reference to the Indian Regime
4BLJ 2011(1) 48
31 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2012 Last revised: 2 Dec 2016
Date Written: 2011
Oil is not only the most sought after but also the most transported commodity worldwide and because of its physical and chemical nature, sea is the most convenient medium of transportation. Oil pollution is a recurring phenomenon and has gravest effects on marine environment as well as economic conditions of the people inhabiting the areas around the affected areas. Oil pollution of the sea began with the introduction of oil fuel in ships and increased with the carriage of oil cargo in bulk and has been ever increasing ever since.
Oil pollution might result from collision of vessels carrying oil cargo or from its bunkers. Tanker accidents, however, are not the only source of oil pollution. Marine based oil pollution can emanate either from ships or from offshore installations.Pictures of the Deep Water Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico and MSC Chitra and MV Khalijia 3 collision in the Arabian Sea splashed across the print and television media educe the latent potential of environmental calamity a marine accident might cause. Accidental pollution of sea by oil is inevitable. It is the price that mankind has to pay for the benefits of an industrial society. Now the big question arises as to who is to be held liable for accidents that lead to such catastrophic effects on the marine environment?
States either enter into regional as well as international instruments or depend on common law principles or statutory laws to tackle the menace of oil pollution. Fourteen international conventions and protocols provide a framework for international co-operation to combat emergency situations threatening the marine environment. The international order is principally concerned with the avoidance of accidents at sea, and with regulation of the operational discharge of oil in the cleaning of ballast tanks of oil tankers. Civil liability for oil pollution has been the subject of international conventions for decades.
The law of oil spill liability is a mixture of civil liability and criminal regimes in certain jurisdictions like U.S. The liability and fund conventions limit the liability of the ship-owner in case of maritime accident causing oil pollution. Principles governing the law on oil spill liability are strict liability, channeling of liability, and caps on liability limit. The issue arises as to the propriety of capping the liability limits in the cases of oil spill where the implications of one incident are immense, costs involved in the cleanup are massive and the damage caused to the natural resources and private parties is also grave.
India which has a vast coastline is susceptible to pollution by maritime oil spill accidents and in the wake of recent incidents it has become imperative to analyze the Indian scheme of laws governing oil spills and see whether it is appropriate enough to meet the challenges of claims arisen by such an incident. The paper seeks to analyze the international liability regime in case of marine based oil pollution and the status of Indian laws in dealing with accidental oil spills.
Keywords: oil spill, civil liability, compensation
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