Letter: Shetland disaster: tanker controls, safety at sea, UK fleet's decline

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The Independent Online
Sir: In the wake of the environmental disaster now affecting the Shetlands, it is surely time to take some hard decisions in order to try to avert future oil spillages in the seas.

First of all, international agreement must be sought on a number of technical precautions, such as (a) reducing the size of any individual tank on board ship, so that any spillage is reduced to a minimum; (b) to make it compulsory for oil tankers to locate their tanks as far away from the outer edges of the ship as possible; (c) the use of a special distress signal enabling coastal services not only to rescue the crew, but also to try to manoeuvre the ship in such a way as to avoid a spillage; and (d) the compulsory use of pilots whenever oil tankers find themselves within a certain distance of the coast or of any rocks on which they may founder.

Furthermore, these measures must be effectively enforced. Coastguards must be given the right, within territorial waters, to make thorough and unannounced inspections of any oil tanker, and to commandeer the ship if it fails to meet the required safety standards. Also, any country whose flag is being used by oil tankers should be held liable for any damage resulting from its failure to ensure compliance with these standards; if necessary, states which systematically fail in their duty in relation to oil tankers should be made subject to UN sanctions.

Yours sincerely,



5 January