Introduction
Aim of the regulation
Predominant features
Moving forward


Introduction

Oil spills can have a disastrous effect on the marine environment and public health, and a quick and effective response to a spill or threat of such incident can make all the difference to mitigating potential damage. In addressing this aspect of preparedness and response to marine pollution incidents locally, the Maltese legislature introduced the Oil and Hazardous and Noxious Substances Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation Regulation through Legal Notice 450 of 2020. This came into force on 1 January 2021.

Aim of regulation

The purpose behind the regulation is to set out the regulatory framework for implementing the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation 1990 (OPRC convention) and the Protocol of 2000 to the OPRC convention relating to Pollution Incidents by Hazardous and Noxious Substances. This forms the legal basis for international co-operation between states to combat major marine pollution occurrences or threats. The regulation caters for the applicability of the National Marine Pollution Contingency Plan (NMPCP) and for the marine pollution response emergency plans that local marine terminals, marine facilities and ports must have in place.

Predominant features

Transport Malta is the national competent authority responsible for maintaining, updating and enforcing the NMPCP. The NMPCP has the force of law in Malta. It applies to all local marine terminals, marine facilities and to all ships in Malta's internal and territorial waters.

Transport Malta also has a key role to play in supporting local operators of marine terminals and facilities in the development, implementation and approval of their pollution emergency plans and any updates. It simultaneously ensures consistency of these plans with the NMPCP. Transport Malta's role is also to organise periodic national training and drills in pollution emergency and response. This ensures that the local marine workforce have the requisite skills and practices to handle a potential pollution incident.

Aside from ensuring that personnel have had good training, there is a requirement for minimum-level first-aid pollution response equipment. The required equipment is dependent on the risk assessment carried out by the respective operator. Naturally, each operator's risk assessment will differ depending on the risks to the operator's activities and the ways in which each operator plans to mitigate these risks. Due to Malta's size and the geographic proximity of marine terminals, facilities and ports, it is possible for operators to agree to share equipment.

The regulation also touches on the duties of operators and masters to report any pollution incident to Transport Malta without delay. In accordance with the Vessel Traffic Monitoring and Reporting Requirements Regulations, every master of a ship has a duty to report a pollution incident that occurs in the territorial waters or contiguous zone of Malta.

Moving forward

Transport Malta's Port Notice of 30 November 2020 (16 of 2020) had already provided relevant persons with a brief introduction to the regulation before it came into force. The Port Notice had recommended local operators analyse their state of preparedness. When the regulation came into force all operators were granted 12 months to develop, implement and maintain a pollution emergency plan or update any existing plans. If a marine terminal or facility starts operating in 2021, the plans are a prerequisite for starting operations. Plans must be revised as indicated in the regulation and non-compliance or breaches of the regulation are considered an offence and fines will be levied.

This regulation is a further addition to the extensive legal and regulatory framework for pollution prevention, and its provisions should be considered in addition to all such other laws and regulations in force. As a maritime hub, the local shipping community already has respectable practices in place but in the spirit of the regulation, increased preparation and co-operation will ensure the continued safeguarding of our environment.

For further information on this topic please contact Stephanie Farrugia at Fenech & Fenech Advocates by telephone (+356 2124 1232) or email ([email protected]). The Fenech & Fenech website can be accessed at www.fenechlaw.com.