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Dirty Shipping


Oil spill of Mauritius & Beirut explosion are two of the most shocking & tragic events of 2020, apart from the Covid-19 pandemic that is. Both these events have something in common other than the fact that the aftermath of both was devastation for nature & mankind.


Bhuvan Malhotra

Management Professional

Oil spill of Mauritius & Beirut explosion are two of the most shocking & tragic events of 2020, apart from the Covid-19 pandemic that is. Both these events have something in common other than the fact that the aftermath of both was devastation for nature & mankind. The thread in focus linking them both is the use of sea route and more importantly – SHIPS! 

Whether it be the Wakashio bulk carrier running aground on a coral reef in Pointe D’Esny, south of Mauritius or 2700 tonnes of explosive ammonium nitrate being stored for 6 years in a warehouse port by the Lebanon government after a carrier wasn’t allowed clearance, the common link is the use of sea route and these big cargo ships.  

Although as per an ITOPF report, with better infrastructure and safety measures the frequency of global oil spills and shipping incidents average at a considerably low 1.8 per year, however, there is a lot more to just mechanical failures and human errors that eventually lead to disasters such as those of Mauritius and Beirut. 

In these modern times, it is relatively very easy for an individual or an organization to own a ship. A simple step by step process for the layman would be – buy a new/old/used ship, put this ship under a shell company (that you’ll set up just for the ship) and finally register it in a foreign country that you won’t necessarily live in. This simple 3 step process gives the owner the license to deploy the ‘legal’ ship for multiple activities. The scary part about this process is that if an unforeseen incident happens due to lack of adoption of safety measure, the responsibility does not fall upon the individual but on the shell company that was incorporated in a relatively friendly country for example PANAMA! 

Panama comes into the focus in a seemingly easy and unsafe shipping industry because 20% of the world’s ships are registered in that country. The reasons for this oversimplified case of global ships being registered in small countries like Panama are lack of strict rules and safety regulations that should govern the industry, the freedom to ship anything and everything, and the perks of being completely anonymous while registering your shell company. 

And as someone with a keen eye would have noticed by now, the carrier that crashed in Mauritius’ coral reefs belongs to a Japanese company and is registered in Panama. As a result, there is little clarity on the owners and the source of compensation for the disaster. A slightly different situation unraveled in Beirut where the ship was considered unsafe by the port authorities which led the owner to abandon the ship. What happened after 6 years in 2020 is considered as one of the biggest catastrophes of all time. 

It practically doesn’t make sense to get rid of ships since the international shipping industry is responsible for the carriage of around 90% of world trade. But what can be done is to make the regulations, the accountability, and the entire process a little stricter so that no more explosives or nature-damaging materials are put into the oceans ever again. 

Do you think that these two recent events will force the world to strengthen its regulations? Or will it still go for a toss?

Note: Digital Dialogues holds the right to use this piece of content as authorised by the owner. If you wish to use material from this article for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’ you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The views expressed in the article are personal.Also, there might be references taken from various sources on the internet. The main intent is to share across information to the reader!

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