oil spill

In this article, Raghav Ajmera of Shri Navalmal Firodia Law College, Pune discusses Oil leaks in the sea and environmental damage – Indian laws that are relevant.


Oil leaks or oil spill is considered among the worst ecological disasters. The most transported commodity in the world is oil and because of its chemical nature, it is transported through the medium of the sea. These type of spills occurs when there is a collision of vessels carrying oil cargo. Oil spills not only pollute the sea but the whole environment. It is a nation and international concern regarding the marine pollution because when the spill occurs it is not a short-term pollution it is a long-term pollution. The spills last for decades and it cannot be cured until and unless the appropriate measures are taken to prevent, control and remove the risk.

Environmental Pollution and its types

Pollution refers to the addition of harmful or contaminants to the natural environment is known as pollution. Pollution is of many types which areas :

  • Air pollution: The harmful particles or contaminants released by the industries or the vehicles into the natural environment causing the problem to respirate is known as air pollution.
  • Noise pollution: The sound created by the industries, airplane, vehicles which can cause a hearing problem. It affects both health and body.
  • Water pollution: The harmful intoxicants or the waste released into the water which may harm the groundwater is known as water pollution.
  • Soil pollution: When the harmful chemicals are released by the spills or underground leakage into the soil is known as soil pollution.

Meaning of Oil Spill

In the basic terms, it refers to when the oil is released into the sea or oceans or coastal areas due to the collision of two vessels carrying oil cargo. It has a direct effect on marine ecosystem just because of the inhuman activity and it is also a kind of pollution. It is the release of liquid petroleum hydrocarbon. Oil spills have effects on society economically, environmentally and socially. The quantities in which the spills have taken place is between several thousand tons to several lakh tons. Oil spills result in the damage of the beaches, marshlands, marine mammals, fish, and birds. Spills may take from days to years of cleaning.

Environmental damages by oil spill

An oil slick is the floating of oil over the water after the oil spill and when an oil slick reaches the beach the oil grasp to every rock and grain of sand present there at the beach. If the oil spill reaches to the forest or other wetlands the grasses there absorbs the oil which can damage the plant and make the whole place an unsuitable habitat.

When the oil stops floating on the surface and sinks into the water it has the same effect to the marine ecosystem which leads to the killing of the fishes inside the water and thus resulting in the breaking of the food chain from which the world is connected.

According to the reports, despite the efforts of cleaning up after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 a study of 2007 conducted by the National Oceanic and atmospheric administration(NOAA) found that 26000 gallons of oil from the Exxon Valdez oil spill was still found in the sand along the Alaska shoreline that is why it is regarded as the most dangerous environmental disaster which cannot be removed even after years. The scientists also revealed that the oil was declining less than 4 percent rate annually.

  • Oil spills kill birds

These are the kind of birds which swim and dive for their food and are most likely to be damaged by the oil spill. Even the small amount of oil can cause danger to the bird. By the coating of oil over the birds not make them able to fly and thus destroying their natural waterproofing.
As per the reports, Exxon Valdez oil spill killed approximately between 2,50,000 to 5,00,000 seabirds and also a number of shorebirds.

  • Oil spills kill marine mammals

Whenever the oil stops floating and gets started to sink into the marine ecosystem it causes a problem for the dolphins and whales as the oil reaches down there it creates a problem for the animals to breathe. Even when the marine mammals sense danger during the time of oil spill and leaves the place makes them safe but it causes a problem of food as their whole habitat is dependent on the marine fishes which are exposed to the oil spills which may be poisoned by the oil.

  • Oil spills kill fish

The oil spills cause a big danger to the marine fishes which causes their death as they are exposed to a large quantity of oil spill.

  • Wildlife habitat and breeding grounds – Oil spill

It has long-term effects on every kind of environment not only the marine environment. The oil spills destroy the natural habitat of the seaside animals like sea turtles who spend most of their time in the sea but comes ashore to nest. Sea turtles can be exposed to the oil spill as they stay ashore for the nest and when the oil floats over to beaches it destroys the eggs which cause a problem in their development.

The danger the oil spill has varied due to different factors including the amount of oil spilled, the time, the location, the type and weight of oil spill but at the end, every oil spill is a danger to the environment.

Oil spills in India

The following table describes the oil spills in India :

Name Location Dates Estimated flow rate
Full cargo(tonnes) Spilled

(Min tonnes)


(Max tonnes)

Ennore Oil Spill Ennore port, Chennai, India 28th January to present(285 days) n/a 473 20 60 The ship BW Maple (UK flag), an LPG tanker, collided with the petroleum tanker Dawn Kanchipuram (Indian flag)
Mumbai-urban pipeline spill Arabian-sea, Mumbai, India 21st January 2011 40 55
Mumbai oil spill/ MV MSC Chitra and MV Khalijia 3 Arabian-sea, Mumbai, India 7 August 2010 to 9 August 2010 400 800

International conventions

There are international conventions which are made for the prevention of pollution from the ships and these are directed towards the following objectives :

  1. The first objective is to provide the complete elimination of international pollution of the seas by the oil;
  2. To provide for the minimization of the international and accidental pollution of the seas by oil and other elements by the help of offshore facilities;
  3. To provide for the complete elimination of the pollution of the seas by activities such as tank washing and bilge discharge involving noxious and hazardous cargoes other than oil;
  4. To deal with the minimization of the oil spill by the result of accident;
  5. To deal with the dumping and the other disposal waste of ashore and sewage by the ships into the seas;
  6. To deal with safe carriage of dangerous goods;
  7. To deal with air pollution generated from ships.

In order to deal with the problem arising out of the sea oil pollution, there have been following three conventions :

  1. International Convention relating to intervention on the high seas in Cases of Oil Pollution Damage, 1969;
  2. International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution, 1969, and
  3. International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Oil Pollution Damage, 1971.

Merchant shipping Act, 1958 – Where to complaint and how to complaint

The part XI of the Merchant shipping act, 1958 gives effects to international conventions regarding the prevention of pollution of the seas by oil. The problem of oil pollution is a very big concern to our country as oil is imported to our country in large quantity.
So accordingly the problem is divided into two stages :

  1. Prevention of such pollution, and
  2. Mitigation, control or removal of oil spillage whether accidental or otherwise.

The following points describe the meaning of the sections describe in the merchant shipping act, 1958.

  • Section 356 A

The section 356A of the Merchant shipping act, 1958 defines the application of prevention and containment of pollution of the sea by the oil.

  • Section 356 B

The section 356B describes the definition of the pollution of the sea by the oil. This section defines every term related to the cause of pollution of the sea by the vessels carrying oil cargo.

  • Section 356 C

The section 356C describes the issue of pollution prevention certificate which is issued so that no tanker or ship proceeds to sea. It is issued by the central government to be called an international oil prevention certificate.

  • Section 356 D

The section 356D describes the issue of certificates for foreign ships in India and Indian ships in foreign countries which means without a certificate a ship cannot enter any other country.

  • Section 356 E

The section 356E describes the requirement for construction and equipment in ships to prevent pollution which means that proper steps should be taken towards the prevention of pollution by whatever necessary means of construction.

  • Section 356 F

The section 356F describes recording the books which means that books should be maintained with respect to how much of oil is imported in India.

  • Section 356 G

The section 356G describes inspection and control of oil tankers and other ships to which this Part applies which states that any person authorized may go on board and inquire about the ship is according to the proper rules and regulations.

  • Section 356 H

The section 356H describes the information regarding contravention of provisions of Convention which means that the director general on finding out the ship is not according to the prescribed regulations may detain the ship and proceed against the oil tanker.

  • Section 356 I

The section 356I describes the Oil reception facilities at ports in India which states that every port in India should provide reception facilities.

  • Section 356 J

The section 356J describes the Power to give a notice to the owner, etc., of polluting ship when the central government is satisfied if the ship is not as per the prescribed rules then the shipowner may be served with a notice to correct the same mistake.

  • Section 356 K

The section 356K describes the Powers to take measures for preventing or containing[oil or noxious liquid substance] pollution states that when one person after being served the notice under section 356J fails to comply the central government can convict the person of an offense.

  • Section 356 L

The section 356L describes the Power of the Central Government to give directions to certain ships to render certain services states that the government may ask shipowner to render any service if it deemed necessary.

  • Section 356 M

The section 356M describes the oil pollution cess.

  • Section 356 N

The section 356N describes the refusal of port clearance.

  • Section 356 O

The section 356O describes the Power to make rules.



Did you find this blog post helpful? Subscribe so that you never miss another post! Just complete this form…


  1. When you have a Solution!

    Inevitable Toxic Oil Spills happen EVERYDAY, we must Clean them up! May I direct your attention to the provided information?

    An Independent Report and Study Testimonial on Amcor Sorbe from Kaustav Kashyap, Health Safety Environment Officer at John Energy Limited
    Dibrugarh, Assam, India


    Changes the Composition of Oil, Gasoline to WATER!

    AmCorCo Corporation Amcorco.com view the video If you only view this as a
    Sales Pitch, You’ve Missed the POINT!

    Thank you.