Letter: Sea Empress disaster: why did it happen? what are the lessons to be learnt?

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Sea Empress disaster: why did it happen? what are the lessons to be learnt?

From Mr Kevin Shilleto

Sir: Whether the Sea Empress drama is brought to a relatively damage- free conclusion or not, this case highlights once again the dangers inherent in trying to run oil transportation by sea on the cheap.

Since the oil crisis of 1973-74, the international oil industry has been able to dictate freight conditions to tanker owners and has invariably opted to force the latter to cut operational corners. Meantime, international safety regulations have been vastly extended, some of them containing a cost element for shipowners.

As a result, replacement of old, unreliable vessels has dwindled to the point where sheer fleet age is going to increase the frequency of pollution scenarios. Building and operating a double-hull VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier) costs at least 20 per cent more than a similar single hull vessel but oil companies will not pay the premium. So shipowners will not build them.

Oil companies do not themselves own tankers, as they once did, because shipping is no longer regarded as a "core" activity (ie it does not make any money). Whose fault is that?

Perhaps it is time the supermarkets, already commanding 25 per cent of the UK petrol market (and 40 per cent in France), got into refining and transportation as well. At least they know when to take products dangerous to the public off their shelves.

Yours faithfully,

Kevin Shilleto

Director, Internaft

London, SW1