Membership of the Club means automatic membership of ITOPF



Members of the Shipowners’ Club benefit not only from our internal expertise but also from our access to external experts.

Many Members may not be aware that membership of the Club means automatic membership of the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF), which is paid for by the Club.

We spoke to Karen Purnell, Managing Director at ITOPF, to discuss not only the benefits of membership but also how the remit for ITOPF has widened in recent years.

What is ITOPF’s primary function?

Our primary function is to give shipowners and their insurers peace of mind. Whenever and wherever an incident occurs, which could result in the accidental spillage of oil, chemical, containers, cows (!), they have access to a team of highly qualified, practical, yet objective Technical Advisers who are available 24/7 to travel to site and work with all parties to minimise pollution damage. We back-up our emergency response service with assistance on the assessment of the technical merit of any claims arising from the incident.

We also have a ‘peace-time’ role in which we provide training to both government and industry bodies, particularly in ‘hot-spot’ areas like S.E. Asia and India.

ITOPF Technical Adviser, Joe Green, assisting at an IMO training course in Korea
ITOPF Technical Adviser, Joe Green, assisting at an IMO training course in Korea
This encompasses seminars, workshops and assistance with contingency planning and drills so as to improve the overall level of preparedness and response to incidents worldwide.
This is a service that we offer to all of our shipowners, free of charge, either through their P&I Club or on an individual basis.

As you touched on, you aren’t only involved with oil pollution. Can you explain what else you do?

I mentioned cows well, fortunately, technical advice associated with the loss of a cargo of cows is rare. More common is advice relating to the spillage of oil (either bunkers or cargo), chemicals carried in bulk or in containers and other bulk cargoes, such as vegetable oils, wood, coal or cereals.

“Although untypical we have had unusual claims, such as the claim that fish ‘drowned’ at the entrance to a bay in their rush to get away from the oil”

Perhaps a surprise to some, but a cargo of grain can cause significant harm to the environment and/or human health depending upon the circumstances.

We have been involved in a case where a diver was killed as a result of hydrogen sulphide generated from fermenting wheat in a cargo hold, and we have advised on the consequences of jettisoning a cargo of grain onto the seabed and the harm this might cause due to smothering of corals or fishing grounds.

Even if a ship does not spill its cargo or bunkers, sometimes physical damage to the seabed can arise from groundings. Depending upon where in the world the incident occurs physical damage, particularly to corals, can result in massive claims. ITOPF’s marine biologists can assist with the assessment of these claims and provide technical advice in relation to any restoration measures proposed.

What is your typical incident response plan?

ITOPF has the benefit of being able to draw on attendance at more than 700 incidents worldwide, which, when combined with our databases, our Country Profiles, and our knowledge of the fate and effects of pollutants on sensitive marine resources, allows the team to quickly assess whether an incident is likely to give rise to serious consequences. We then work with the shipowner’s insurer to decide whether immediate travel to site is required.

“Once on site, our role is strategic and always advisory. The role of a Technical Adviser varies according to the specifics of the incident, its location, the resources at risk, and the experience/attitude of the country affected”

ITOPF Technical Team Manager, Franck Laruelle, on site at a spill in the Philippines
ITOPF Technical Team Manager, Franck Laruelle, on site at a spill in the Philippines

We do not hold or manage response equipment ourselves, preferring instead to rely on local resources. This is because we have found that it is rare for equipment and resources flown in from outside the country to work effectively, not least because there are usually lengthy delays in clearing the equipment through customs, and also because integration of external equipment into a local response is rarely effective unless well practiced. In fact, a great deal can be achieved with the very basic of resources and a ‘can-do’ attitude.

Alongside advising on response strategies, the Technical Adviser will be identifying economic and environmental concerns and working with the authorities responsible for these resources to protect them. They will also be working to reduce economic loss in case of subsequent claims, for example, from aquaculture, wildlife response, tourism etc.

ITOPF’s role on site encompasses the full range of tasks to facilitate an effective response; from demonstrating how to clean the beaches to the clean-up crews, to advising the Minister of Environment on how to manage fisheries closures. Our time on site may vary from a week or so with just one Technical Adviser, to attendance by several staff spanning several months in large cases like the MT HEBEI SPIRIT. Once back in the office the role of the Technical Adviser working alongside the Technical Support Team on the assessment of claims for compensation may last several months or even years.

Any unusual cases?

Although untypical, the follow selection of claims do provide lighter moments for our team. These include for example:

A claim for ‘poor performance’ of a prize bull after oil contaminated his field during a storm.

A claim that fish ‘drowned’ at the entrance to a bay in their rush to get away from the oil.

A sample of engine oil from a ride-on lawn mower submitted as evidence to support a claim for pollution damage from crude oil. A discussion about the highly sophisticated analytical techniques that exist to distinguish different oil types was sufficient to encourage the claimant to reconsider.

A claim for environmental damage following an environmental monitoring programme in which high nitrate levels in sea water were reported. The sample sites were just downstream from a clean-up site where some 1,000 army personnel were working – with only five portable toilets between them.

The case of the moving lobster pots: Claimants meeting in the pub became aware that P&I Club surveyors were counting lobster pots in different fishing ports to determine the validity of claims. These pots mysteriously moved overnight until the surveyors ‘got wind’ and started marking them to track their nightly travels.

Not a claim but a nice story of how oiled swans were cared for following an oil spill in sub-zero temperatures in the Baltic. As so many oiled swans were in danger of dying of hypothermia and needed to be moved to a warm location quickly, a local sauna was evacuated. Amusing cartoons of swans walking through the sauna entrance with towels under their wings whilst people stood naked and shivering outside in the snow appeared in the local papers the next day.

How are you governed and funded?

ITOPF is a not-for-profit organisation limited by guarantee and is small company of just over 30 staff with one office in London. Our board comprises a mix of predominantly independent tanker owners, P&I Clubs and the ship-owning arm of oil companies. Our Chairman is Paddy Rogers of Euronav.

We are privileged to be funded by the entire world’s shipping community via their P&I insurers. This mechanism of funding provides for the equitable sharing of the cost of having the Federation on 24/7 stand-by in case of an incident. A small percentage of the premium payable when a shipowner buys his P&I insurance (less than a cup of coffee a day!) goes to support the work of ITOPF.

Our income is split in the ratio 40% Members, 60% Associates as this reflects the fact that, on average, two-thirds of all the incidents that ITOPF attends results from the spillage of bunker fuel from non-tank vessels. ITOPF Membership renewals and charging of dues generally takes place on the same date as P&I renewals, i.e. 20th February.

This equitable sharing of the cost of having access to ITOPF’s services means that we can provide technical support where it is most needed. We are not having to chase funding to support our ‘peace-time’ role but can work alongside UN organisations, like the IMO and IOPC Funds, to ensure that training is given to countries most in need of establishing effective emergency preparedness and response to incidents, many of whom do not have the financial resources to support such training.

In this manner, shipowners can be further reassured that should they be unfortunate enough to have an incident in one of these countries, the agencies are more likely to be familiar with the role of ITOPF and the P&I insurers and perhaps more inclined to work co-operatively – that is our goal!

What is on the horizon in terms of regulation that will affect ITOPF’s role in the future?

We have for some years anticipated a growing interest from industry and government in preparing and responding to incidents involving Hazardous and Noxious Substances (HNS).

Two members of the ITOPF technical team receiving training in HNS response
Two members of the ITOPF technical team receiving training in HNS response
Accordingly, we established an ‘in-house’ working group to address HNS issues and to have input to the work of the IMO and IOPC Funds as they prepare for entry into force of the protocol to the HNS Convention – eventually!

In view of the recent entry into force of the Nairobi Wreck Removal Convention we anticipate an increase in the number of queries related to the presence of a wreck. Our team is already receiving queries on whether the physical presence of a wreck, the hull paint, or items left on board could constitute a hazard and it is possible that these queries will increase in the future.

Also on the horizon is the possibility of an increase in shipping in Arctic waters and our in-house ‘Arctic Working Group’ is already receiving several requests to speak on preparedness and response to incidents in ice-covered waters. Our team have undertaken survival training for cold climates and they are engaged in producing a sequel to our popular training film series – look out for the new film on Oil Spills in Ice Covered Waters due for release next year! Watch the Trailer for Oil Spills in Ice Covered Waters from ITOPF on Vimeo.

We are proud to work closely with ITOPF. They have supported Shipowners’ and our Members for many years; their reputation for service and the provision of technical support is exemplary and represents a valued added service of P&I entry to our membership that perhaps is not well known – at least not until the claim occurs.

If more information on ITOPF is required please contact the Club

Photo credit for the photograph of Karen Purnell used at the beginning of this article is given to Dianna Bonner.