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SOPEP – Shipboard Oil Pollution Emergency Plan

SOPEP is used during oil pollution emergencies i.e. when oil leakage takes place during operations of a ship including bunkering operations. SOPEP is a Plan that is to be carried out if there is leakage of oil in sea. SOPEP must be approved by or on behalf of the registered Flag State. The plan maybe checked by Port State Control, Vetting and Other inspectors to make sure it is approved and up to date.

MARPOL Annexure – I requires oil tankers over 150GT and all other ships over 400GT to carry a SOPEP. It also sets rules for ships to minimize oil pollution of sea. MARPOL requires flag state to ensure that their ships report any pollution incident and the coastal states to be ready to receive these reports.

The main purpose of SOPEP is to ensure that the “International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness Response and Co-Operation” (OPRC) is followed. The main aim of the OPRC Convention is to improve co-operation between states when they need to deal with oil pollution in the sea. Part of the OPRC was that ships would report oil pollution incidents quickly and effectively using standardized methods.

The SOPEP should be based on a standard format provided by the IMO. This ensures nothing important is left out and helps users to find their way around the SOPEP on a new ship. The SOPEP is made from the guidelines based on OPRC, MARPOL Annexure – I and IMO.

An international agreement called the “International Convention” allows coastal states to decide course of action during a marine pollution incident to minimize further pollution, regardless of the plans in the ship. This can include ordering a stranded ship to be lightened or towed away. This possibility of this should be mentioned in a ship’s SOPEP.

At times local state laws may require different response to a pollution incident. These have different reporting procedures and the assistance available from shore to help with the incident will be greater. For example the Panama Canal has a special Panama SOPEP in which rules may overlap or override the ship’s SOPEP. A ship on a short regular route maybe covered by spill response plans in ports at either end of the route, the ship’s SOPEP must have clear instructions on which plan to be used and when.

MV Fedra was a bulk carrier that ran aground at Europa Point on 10 October 2008.

Mandatory Content

The IMO has issued guidelines on what should be included in a SOPEP and recommended a format for the required information. Most plans follow the recommended format closely to make it easier to navigate the plans in case of an emergency.

The plans are required to contain instruction for the crew in the following section.

1. Preamble (Introduction)

It explains the purpose of the plan and its relevance to other incident plans i.e. provides a general overview of the plan and gives the basic concepts. The plan must be able to cover any discharge from a small operational spill to discharge of all oil inside a ship

Reporting Requirements

This is to ensure a report has been made of the discharge/potential discharge and given to the right person followed by actions required to minimize pollution and co-ordination of cleanup activities. The reporting procedure will include guidance on what situations should trigger a report i.e.:

  • Actual Discharge

A discharge which is not legal under MARPOL. E.g. oil discharge from machinery spaces more than 15ppm or discharge of oil cargo above 30 litre/nautical mile.

  • Probable Discharge

A probable discharge is more difficult to decide. The plan should provide a guidance on ship operator’s view of when an incident escalates to a probable discharge. E.g. If a crack is found in the ship’s main deck/hull which suggests major weakening of ship’s structure with potential for a cargo leak. Or a cargo shift, so there is a danger of capsize with loss of fuel into the sea

  • How the report should be made

A blank copy of the standard IMO report form is attached with the plan and an example on how to fill it will be available with the plan. The form should be used for the initial report to make sure all relevant ship details are included. Follow up reports maybe necessary and the plan should specify how often they will be necessary

  • Instructions on whom to contact

The plan will contain information on the preferred method of reporting, usually by a radio call to the nearest rescue co-ordination center. However other methods such as E-Mail can also be used. Report to harbor might be by VHF or telephone, Instructions on what to do in the event of undue delay in contacting the responsible authority by direct means should be provided by the plan. A list of contact details of every coastal state should be provided in the plan.

2. Steps to control Discharge

This part explains how to prevent the pollution from leaking from the ship. The plan will address the following

  • Procedures for spill Prevention

General requirements for spill prevention maybe given here such as scupper plugging, keeping decks as dry as possible, watch routines, level alarms or pipeline pressure testing and placement of spill pumps, portable drip trays etc. This part of the plan also specifies procedures of cleaning oil spilled or contained in deck using the following items that are stored in SOPEP Locker:

RAGS30 kg
SHOVELS (Anti Spark)4
  • Pipe Leakage

This may cover hydraulic, fuel, lube oil and cargo pipelines. The plan should provide specific guidance for dealing with pipe leakages such as preventive testing, rapid depression and emergency repairs.

  • Tank Overflow

Procedures dealing with tank overflow should be included in the SOPEP. Procedures for spills or leaks from cargo tanks on deck maybe different to those tanks inside the hull.

  • Hull Leakage

The plan should provide guidance for responding to pollution due to suspected hull leakage. It involves guidance on locating the leaking tank and measure to reduce the head of cargo in the tank by internal transfer or oil discharge ashore.

  • Any other operations thought necessary

Other operations which could lead to spills or illegal discharges may be covered separately. For example casualties caused by Grounding, Fire/Explosion, Hull failure etc.

3. National and Local Co-Ordination

Explains how the ship’s crew and management will work together with the authorities. Efficient co-ordination between the ship and national or local authorities is vital to minimize the effect of pollution. The plan instructs the master to keep in contact with the authorities so as both parties understand and act accordingly. The roles of national and local authorities vary widely, some take charge of the response and charge the shipowner and some make the shipowner responsible for cleanup.

Non Mandatory Content

This contains the Non Mandatory Information that could be helpful during an incident. It is common to find large parts of the plan made up of info which is important but outside the approved section since it is difficult to change or alter the mandatory section. This part is kept up to date by the crew without approval.

This part of SOPEP contains:

  1.  Information on ship its layout and equipment
  2. Training requirements
  3. Dealing with contractors, salvage teams, Media etc
  4. Record keeping and devices
  5. Mandatory appendices and their contact details i.e. :
    • Latest version of IMO List of national operational contact points
    • Blank forms to record and store relevant contact details between parts
    • Contact details of ship operator
    • Forms for report and pollution
    • Training scenarios
    • Summary Flow charts

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