A regional conference of countries in west, central and southern Africa has committed to continue to work at both national and regional levels to boost preparedness to deal with oil spill incidents which could be devastating both for the marine environment and financially.
The conference (6-9 November) in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, was hosted by CIAPOL, the Ivoirian pollution control centre. It brought together industry and government focal points from 20 out of 22 west, central and southern African countries covered by the Global Initiative for West, Central and Southern Africa (GI-WACAF). This project is run by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations agency with responsibility for safety and security at sea and the prevention of pollution from ships, and IPIECA, the global oil and gas industry association for environmental and social issues.
The GI-WACAF project aims to enhance the level of oil-spill preparedness in a particularly vulnerable region, adjacent to international sea trade routes and significant and rapidly expanding offshore oil and gas activity. The regional conference is the largest event for oil spill preparedness, response and cooperation activities in west, central and southern Africa. It is held once every two years to review progress to date, provide a forum to share experiences and set the project’s priorities for the next two years.
Participants discussed a number of topics, including relevant international and regional legislation, exercise and training, use of oil spill dispersants, trans-boundary cooperation and shoreline clean-up. Experts from Cedre, ITOPF, OSPRI, OSRL, SANCCOB and a number of international oil companies helped to facilitate* the conference, alongside the Project’s network of dedicated focal points from the region.
The GI-WACAF project, which was initiated in 2006, focuses on strengthening national oil spill response capacities as well as transboundary response capabilities, in line with IMO’s International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation 1990 (OPRC 90). This treaty is the international instrument that provides a framework designed to facilitate international co-operation and mutual assistance in preparing for and responding to major oil pollution incidents. It requires States to plan and prepare by developing national systems for pollution response in their respective countries, and by maintaining adequate capacity and resources to address oil pollution emergencies.
Numerous activities designed to develop many aspects of national spill preparedness and response have been held over the past decade.
The 100th GI-WACAF activity, in Abidjan and Assinie, Côte d’Ivoire (8-9 June 2017), demonstrated the progress being made in the region. During that activity, GI-WACAF’s primary role was the evaluation of a national exercise, planned and implemented by the national authorities, which simulated the collision of an oil tanker with an unknown ship off the Ivorian coast, causing a major oil spill. This oil spill training exercise involved more than 100 participants from various public institutions and the private sector, working together to respond to the simulated spill, first at sea and then ashore. The exercise tested Côte d’Ivoire’s National Oil Spill Contingency Plan, developed with support from the GI-WACAF project.
By the end of the 2016/2017 biennium, more than ten national workshops and three regional/sub-regional workshops will have been implemented, and one national exercise will have been supported by the project, where the principle focus has been on the development and testing of national contingency plans. GI-WACAF has also been working to coordinate with other entities and projects with similar mandates in the region, in order to avoid duplication and collectively build upon achievements and progress made.
These efforts aim to complement the work undertaken at the national level to ratify and fully implement relevant IMO treaties, including the OPRC Convention and liability and compensation treaties which cover pollution damage by oil from ships (such as the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage (CLC 1992) and the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage, 2001). Ratification amongst countries is steadily increasing. Most of the 22 countries have now ratified the OPRC and CLC conventions, while the pace of ratification of the Bunkers convention needs further commitment and focus since only six of the 22 have ratified this treaty to date.
Since the GI-WACAF project’s inception, significant strides have been made throughout the region in the development of spill preparedness and response capacity, with nearly all countries now having a designated competent authority response for spill response. There has been a three-fold increase in the number of countries with a national oil spill contingency plan.
Further priorities for the next two years include more effective sharing of key information through the development of databases on available response resources, key contacts and response policies.
The need for improved inter-agency coordination and clear agreement and definition on the roles and responsibilities of those engaged in all aspects of oil preparedness and response at a national level were also highlighted at the conference. Further support in effectively addressing shoreline clean-up and waste management within national spill response systems, was also identified as a priority need for action in the next two years.
The 22 African countries in the GI-WACAF project are: Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Liberia, Mauritania, Namibia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Africa, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.