single-hull vessels excluded from U.S. waters by OPA 90 may continue in trade to countries other than the United States until forced into retirement by MARPOL.

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) issued its final rules on operational and structural requirements to reduce the potential for oil pollution from existing single-hull vessels in July 1996 and January 1997, respectively. Vessels without double hulls operating in U.S. waters are not required to undertake any new structural measures before they are phased out. The operational measures took effect in November 1996. Given the lack of operational experience since the implementation of section 4115, the committee concluded that its impact merits reevaluation in approximately five years. This would permit assessment of the oil transportation industry's experience during the first five years of the mandatory phaseout of single-hull vessels under OPA 90. It would also coincide with the onset of a possible temporary vessel supply-demand imbalance. In the interim, efforts by the USCG to remedy deficiencies in its oil spill and port-state inspection databases would be beneficial for future assessments of the effect of OPA 90 (and other regulations and guidelines) on the protection of the marine environment and the quality of the tank vessel fleet operating in U.S. waters.

On the basis of the difficulties encountered in obtaining reliable oil spill data for the purposes of the present study, the committee identified some opportunities to enhance the USCG oil spill database. First, the USCG should recognize the importance of historical oil spill data as a primary indicator of achievements in the field of marine environmental protection. Adequate resource allocations for data gathering, data entry, and supervisory tasks would help ensure that reporting is complete and consistent throughout the USCG. Second, benefits could accrue if the public were given immediate access via the Internet to a simplified database1 of all oil and chemical spills that have occurred since 1973 in locations that fall under USCG jurisdiction. If the availability of these data were widely publicized and the public encouraged to report discrepancies, possible errors could be scrutinized and corrections issued as necessary. Third, efforts to resolve discrepancies in historical records maintained by the USCG, the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the Oil Spill Intelligence Report, the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation, and other entities would be beneficial in eliminating some of the apparent data anomalies of the type encountered by the committee. Agreement among different groups on consistent definitions of terms would be helpful in this regard.


This simplified database might include information on the name and type of vessel or facility involved; vessel flag; date, time, and location of accident; age of vessel at time of accident: hull type (single, double, double sides, etc.); cause of accident; nature and type of commodity carried and volume spilled; and USCG case number.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement