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Due diligence defence against pollution liabilities

Defence of due diligence to the rescue! A few days ago, The Marathassa, which had spilled 2700 ltrs of bunker oil in Vancouver's English Bay on her maiden voyage in 2015, was acquitted of all charges by a Canadian court.

The starting point was that both the Canadian Shipping Act and Migratory Birds Act provide a defence of due diligence. The Marathassa started off by arguing that it had taken all reasonable steps to avoid marine pollution, but could not prevent the leak from fuel tanks into pipe passage compt. and from there into the sea due to two unforeseeable shipbuilder defects.

Of more interest to the court was, what those reasonable steps were? Some of the important ones on which Marathassa was able to rely were:

- Content of SMS manuals

- Recruitment & training of crew

- Familiarization of crew in shipyard prior to delivery of the vessel

- Onboard familiarization after delivery with safety and pollution prevention systems

- Programme of safety inspections and drills

- Sounding frequency for void spaces

- Bunkering procedures

- Testing of alarms and training in responding to them

- Compliance with SOPEP – specifically wrg to express requirement for taking samples of spill in water

- View of Canadian pilots & Transport Canada inspectors on crew performance

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