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Five years after the revised schedule for phasing out single hull oil tankers and a regulation banning the carriage of heavy grade oil in single hull oil tankers entered into force, Nigeria has said there is no going back on the December 2020 deadline for total ban of such vessels from her waters.

The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) has stated categorically that the window for the final phase-out date for single-hull oil tankers remains December 31 2020 without the possibility of an extension.

Speaking at a Nigerian Ship Registry Interactive Forum organized by NIMASA in Lagos recently, Assistant Director of Cabotage Services, Captain Sunday Umoren warned all operators of single-hull tankers to get them out of Nigerian waters by the deadline or face the full weight of the law.

While noting the difficulty in achieving wholesale fleet renewal, Captain Umoren confirmed that the percentage of single-hull tankers in Nigeria had dropped since the regulation was mooted and called on Nigerian ship owners to show good faith and remove such assists from operation all together.

The hull of the ship is the outer skin of the vessel which ensures there is no water ingress inside it and ensures the watertight integrity of the ship to maintain its floating status. For vessels with a single hull, one plate of steel is all that separates the oil on board from the ocean. If the hull were punctured from a collision or grounding an oil spill is pretty much guaranteed to follow. On the other hand, a ship with a double hull has two plates of steel with empty space in between them. The second hull creates a buffer zone between the ocean and the cargo of oil.

As signatory to the MARPOL Convention, Nigeria joined other countries in adopting the rule to guard against accidents and the ensuing ecological disasters such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill which occurred in Alaska in 1989, when Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker owned by Exxon Shipping Company struck a reef and spilled 260,000 bbl. of crude oil. It is considered the worst oil spill worldwide in terms of damage to the environment.

In December 2003 IMO adopted a revised, accelerated phase-out scheme for single hull tankers, along with other measures including an extended application of the Condition Assessment Scheme (CAS) for tankers and a new regulation banning the carriage of Heavy Grades of Oil (HGO) in single-hull tankers.

Under the phase-out schedule, “Category 1” single-hull oil tankers were prohibited from trading after April 2005, (for ships delivered on or before April 1982 or earlier) or after their anniversary date in 2005 (for ships delivered after 5 April 1982). Category 1 oil tankers, (commonly known as PreMARPOL tankers) include oil tankers of 20,000 tonnes deadweight and above carrying crude oil, fuel oil, heavy diesel oil or lubricating oil as cargo, and tankers of 30,000 tonnes deadweight and above carrying other oils, which did not comply with the requirements for protectively located segregated ballast tanks.

Category 2 oil tankers were phased out according to their age up to 2010. The year 2010 was also a final cut-off date for Category 3 oil tankers which are generally smaller oil tankers. Category 2 oil tankers (commonly known as MARPOL tankers) include oil tankers of 20,000 tonnes deadweight and above carrying crude oil, fuel oil, heavy diesel oil or lubricating oil as cargo, and oil tankers of 30,000 tonnes deadweight and above carrying other oils, which comply with the protectively located segregated ballast tank requirements.

Category 3 oil tankers are oil tankers of 5,000 tonnes deadweight and above but less than the tonnage specified for Category 1 and 2 tankers.

Under the amended regime, while flag states were permitted continued operation of category 2 or 3 tankers beyond 2010 subject to a satisfactory CAS, NIMASA took advantage of this window to push back the final phase-out date for single-hull oil tankers to December 31, 2020.

The Agency also granted some exemptions for single hull tankers which have been allowed to continue operation until the deadline. Nevertheless, it has consistently exercised its right to deny such vessels entry into ports or offshore terminals under its jurisdiction.

Captain Umoren declared that the action was necessary to help Nigeria catch up with global shipping regulations as well as to improve maritime safety and help eliminate substandard shipping in the region.

According to him, “Elimination of single-hull vessels will further strengthen the capacity of Maritime Administrations to target sub-standard ships, achieve regional harmonization and cooperation of port and flag State implementation processes for the elimination of substandard shipping, and prevention of pollution in the region’s waters.”