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Associated with Appendix A (Roles and Responsibilities)

1.1    As a Party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the United Kingdom (UK) has an obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment. This plan is one of the measures that the UK has taken to meet this obligation.

1.2    After saving human life, the key purpose of responding to a maritime incident is to protect human health, and the marine and terrestrial environment.  A range of national and local agencies, some of which have more specific statutory duties than others, undertake the response to incidents that threaten to pollute the seas around the UK.  Appendix A outlines the roles and responsibilities of the organisations that may become involved.

1.3    This plan parallels similar documents dealing with the UK Government’s responsibility for saving life at sea1, for search and rescue and for caring for survivors brought ashore.  Plans prepared by coastal local authorities, harbour authorities, and operators of offshore installations underlie this national plan.  These local plans provide detailed information on the local response to marine incidents and should describe arrangements for mutual support.

1.4    This plan co-exists with major incident and security plans operated by ships, ports and offshore installations.  There needs to be a mutual respect between those in command and control of this plan and those in charge of all other relevant plans.  This ensures that all of the plans can continue to function efficiently, whatever the circumstances.

Legal basis
1.5    The legal basis for this plan is section 293 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, as amended by the Merchant Shipping and Maritime Security Act 1997 and the Marine Safety Act 2003 and the Pollution Prevention Control Act 1999.  Section 293 of the 1995 Act gives the Secretary of State for Transport the function of taking, or co-ordinating, measures to prevent, reduce and minimise the effects of marine pollution.  

1.6    Similarly, the Offshore Installations (Emergency Pollution Control) Regulations 2002, made under section 3 of The Pollution Prevention and Control Act 1999, provides powers for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to give directions and to take such other actions as may be necessary in respect of an offshore installation to prevent or minimise pollution or the threat of pollution.

1.7    This plan also meets one of the UK Government’s obligations under the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation 1990 (the “OPRC Convention”).  The Merchant Shipping (Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation Convention) Regulations 1998 implement other obligations under the Convention.  In particular, they require harbour authorities to have oil pollution emergency plans that are compatible with this plan.  Harbour authorities must submit revised plans to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) every five years, or earlier if a substantial change is required. MCA has published advice in their Oil Spill Contingency Plan Guidelines for Ports, Harbours and Oil Handling Facilities.  Similarly, the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI) requires the operators of offshore installations to have an oil spill contingency plan approved under the OPRC Regulations 1998 and has issued guidance “Guidance Notes to Operators of Offshore Oil and Gas Installations (including pipelines)” to assist operators in their preparation.

1.8    Relevant to this Plan, the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 defines an emergency as “an event or situation that threatens damage to the environment only if it involves, causes or may cause contamination of land, water or air with biological, chemical or radio-active matter, or disruption or destruction of plant life or animal life”

1.9    The Civil Contingencies Act, in Section 2, places a duty upon Category 1 Responders to prevent an emergency, reduce, control or mitigate its effects, in relation to their functions and take any other action in connection with it.  Therefore Category 1 Responders have a duty to comply with the Act if they have assessed that an emergency may seriously obstruct them in the performance of their functions, or they consider it necessary or desirable to take action and they cannot take that action without changing the deployment of resources or by acquiring additional resources.  Category 1 Responders include local authorities, emergency services, some NHS bodies and some government agencies.

1.10    The MCA meets the requirements of its planning duty under the Civil Contingencies Act by maintaining a set of three emergency plans.  These are the Business Continuity Plan, the Major Incident Plans (primarily SAR) and this National Contingency Plan for Marine Pollution from Shipping and Offshore Installations (NCP).

1.11    Local authorities in England and Wales have a general power under section 138 of the Local Government Act 1972 to act with respect to emergencies or disasters.  Local authorities in Scotland have similar powers under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973.

1.12    Local authorities have prepared, and implemented, local response plans based on these powers. MCA advises them to submit revised plans every five years, or earlier if there is a substantial change.

1.13    In Northern Ireland, the Water (Northern Ireland) Order 1999 places a duty on the Department of the Environment to protect waterways from pollution through the Environment and Heritage Service (EHS).  The legislation also gives the Department wide ranging powers to prevent or remove polluting matter where it considers appropriate.  The EHS prepares local response plans in the same way as local authorities do elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Marine pollution
1.14    The scope of this plan matches the scope of the Secretary of State’s powers of intervention.  References to “marine pollution” therefore refer to pollution by oil or other hazardous substances.  “Oil” means oil of any description (section 151 of the 1995 Act). “Other hazardous substances” are those substances prescribed under section 138A of the 1995 Act.  They also include any substance that, although not so prescribed, is liable to create hazards to human health, to harm living resources and marine life, to damage amenities or to interfere with other legitimate uses of the sea.

1.15    Such pollution can result from spills of ships’ cargoes carried in bulk or in packages, ships’ bunkers and/or stores’, and leaks from oil and gas installations and pipelines.

Area covered
Associated with Appendix B (International Assistance and Co-operation) and Appendix C (Maps of the UK Pollution Control Zone and MCA Regions)

1.16    This plan covers all incidents in, or likely to affect, the UK Pollution Control Zone2 - that is, any part of the sea within the area designated under the Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Pollution) (Limits) Regulations 1996, as amended.

1.17    The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are responsible for their own counter pollution arrangements but may request assistance from the MCA in a major incident.

1.18    Appendix B summarises the bilateral and multilateral agreements on co-operation. MCA’s Director/Deputy Director of Operations, and Counter Pollution Branch based at its headquarters in Southampton discharge all obligations under these agreements.  MCA headquarters also informs other States of any pollution threat to their waters or shoreline, and co-ordinates any requests for international assistance.

1.19    A map illustrating the UK’s Pollution Control Zone is at Appendix C with another map showing the MCA Regions and distribution of resources.

1.20    The purpose of this plan is to ensure that there is a timely, measured and effective response to incidents.  The owners and masters of ships and the operators of offshore installations bear the primary responsibility for ensuring that they do not pollute the sea.  Harbour authorities are likewise responsible for ensuring that their ports operate in a manner that avoids marine pollution, and for responding to incidents within their limits.  However, ships, offshore installations and harbour authorities may face problems that exceed the response capabilities that they can reasonably maintain (especially in the provision of counter pollution equipment).  Similarly, coastal local authorities may face incidents that require equipment or expertise beyond their capabilities.  Therefore, the MCA may need to use national assets in the response to a marine pollution incident.

1.21    This plan sets out the circumstances in which MCA deploys the UK’s national assets to respond to a marine pollution incident to protect the overriding public interest.  It also describes how MCA manages these resources.

Associated with Appendix D (Intervention Powers ~ Shipping) and Appendix E (Intervention Powers ~ Offshore Installations)

1.22    MCA, an Executive Agency of the Department for Transport (DfT), has overall responsibility for the implementation of this plan.  For this purpose, MCA exercises the functions of the Secretary of State (for Transport) under the 1995 Act, including the Secretary of State’s intervention powers.  Details of these powers are at Appendix D.

1.23    Regulations under the Pollution Prevention and Control Act 1999 created parallel powers for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in relation to offshore installations and pipelines.  In reality, the Secretary of State’s Representative (SOSREP) empowered to act in relation to shipping and offshore installations is the same person.  In the absence of the SOSREP, designated personnel from the MCA and DTI are empowered to exercise the Secretary of State’s powers.  Details are provided at Appendix E.

1.24    The Government has appointed the SOSREP to provide overall direction for salvage, intervention and the prevention of marine pollution incidents involving ships or offshore installations that require a national response.  The normal arrangement is therefore for the SOSREP to exercise operational control, as explained below.  As recommended in Lord Donaldson of Lymington’s report on Salvage and Intervention and their Command and Control, Ministers and senior officials should not attempt to influence SOSREP’s operational decisions while operations are in progress.  In Lord Donaldson’s words, they should “back him or sack him”.

1.25    The SOSREP role does not include any responsibility for either at-sea or shoreline clean up activities.  The responsibilities for these functions are described in full in Appendices H and J).

1.26    Action to prevent marine pollution remains a function of the UK Government. Nevertheless, the Scottish Executive, the Northern Ireland Departments, and the National Assembly for Wales (the “devolved administrations”) need to be closely involved when their areas are, or may be, affected.  They have responsibilities for the marine environment and fisheries in waters adjacent to their coasts, and are concerned with the effects on coastal areas.  MCA has signed an Operating Agreement with the Scottish Executive, and a Memorandum of Understanding with the Environment and Heritage Service (EHS).

1.27    This plan refers to the relevant units in the devolved administrations dealing with environmental and fisheries issues as the “devolved environment and fisheries departments”.  For Wales, this includes the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in respect of the fisheries functions where Defra acts on behalf of the National Assembly for Wales.

1    Cabinet Office’s Emergency Response and Recovery Plan    back

2    This area includes the UK’s internal waters, defined as waters inside the baseline of territorial waters, territorial seas, defined as 12 miles from the baseline; and the UK’s pollution control zone, defined as 200 miles from the baseline or out to the nearest median line.    back

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