WMU Journal of Maritime Affairs

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 171–192 | Cite as

A comparative analysis of the European and North-American approaches to dealing with major oil spills

  • Marlene Calderon Veiga



The question of what should be the right level of preparedness to react to a major oil spill (i.e. the EXXON VALDEZ spill, the ERIKA spill, and the PRESTIGE spill) is highly debated, especially in the aftermath of such spills. Little research, however, has been conducted with the aim to identify and compare governments’ best practices not only to fund preparedness measures but also to assess the countries’ ability to respond effectively to catastrophic oil spills. It is the author’s belief that important lessons can be learnt from a comparative analysis of countries’ best practices.


To identify countries’ approaches to fund preparedness measures and to examine how those approaches contribute to reducing the impact of a major oil spill into the marine environment.


In depth review through case studies of past responses to major oil spills, contingency plans, and implementing oil pollution legislation in two North-American countries (United States and Canada) and four European countries (United Kingdom, France, Spain and Portugal). Literature review was supplemented with personal interviews and email questionnaires conducted with competent authorities in those countries.


Most countries showed poor levels of performance in responding to oil spills as revealed by case histories. Emergency towing arrangemen ts show similar levels of performance. Respecting the adequacy of contingency planning practices and the oil pollution legislation implemented, only the United States and Canada meet the desired standards.


The review of past spills showed that some difficulties continue or are repeated by responders. These difficulties included lack of expertise to direct emergency towing operations, low efficiency of clean up equipment in rough waters, and low-risk expectations of oil spill contingency plans. A review of the contents of contingency plans demonstrated that the United States and Canada have been successful in setting new standards for the conduct of exercises, development of scenarios and use of computer tools such as sensitivity mapping. Finally, a review of the legislation shows a failure of European countries in implementing sustainable means of financing preparedness measures, for instance, through the “polluter pays” philosophy to what they are committed in international agreements and conventions.

Key words

oil spills contingency planning response performance polluter pays principle marine pollution by oil 


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Copyright information

© World Maritime University 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marlene Calderon Veiga
    • 1
  1. 1.Seafarers International Research Centre (SIRC)UK

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