Session Chair: Chris Pallister, Gulf of Alaska Keeper

This session showcases coastal resource managers, the general marine-debris-response community, the container shipping industry, shipping insurers, and regulatory agencies will discuss container ship regulation, container spill prevention, spill mitigation response, environmental impacts, and liability issues.

At any given moment, millions of shipping containers are crossing our seas. Each year, thousands of containers are lost overboard, and very few are ever recovered.

Plastic debris from container ships can be found throughout the world’s oceans and along all of its shorelines. It is relatively rare for any shipping company to clean up the debris lost during a container spill, and it is nearly as rare for damages to be paid by the parties responsible for these spills. Time and again, shippers have directed container ships into stormy waters only to have containers swept from decks or to have entire container ships and their cargo lost. When these accidents happen on the high seas, far from any shore, they are mostly ignored. Shippers file claims, insurers pay up, and it’s all just the cost of doing business. Unfortunately the debris that does not sink to the bottom eventually makes its way to shorelines where it harms wildlife and degrades sensitive coastal habitat.

There are a few well-publicized spills – the 1990 mid-Pacific Nike tennis shoes (sneakers spill) in 1990, the 1994 mid-Pacific rubber duck spill in 1994, the Atlantic Lego spill of 1997, the 2012 Gulf of Alaska COSCO Yokohama flyswatter spill, and the 2012 Hong Kong plastic nurdle spill. All of these spills are noteworthy because the resulting debris is identifiable to specific accidents and the resulting debris distribution was able to be tracked for years. Countless other spills were either unpublicized or unnoticed partly because the lost cargo was less colorful. But far more problematic are the spills known only to the shippers, insurers, and the merchants whose cargo is lost, at least until debris starts washing ashore.

Cleanup techniques have been perfected over time, but the work is costly and there are no reliable funding streams to support it. Shippers should be held accountable for the environmental damage caused by container spills. As all shippers must be insured in order to enter major ports, they have the economic resources available to compensate for extensive environmental damages resulting from container spills.

This technical session should explore this issue from the point of cleanup and environmental specialist, wildlife experts, shippers, insurers, and regulatory and land management agencies. Partnering with shipping entities, insurers, and the landowners whose shorelines are impacted by cargo debris is essential to preventing, mitigating, and regulating these spills.




Shipping Container Spills in the Gulf of Alaska: Environmental Impacts and Liability Issues

presenting: Chris Pallister (Gulf of Alaska Keeper, United States); authors: Chris Pallister (Gulf of Alaska Keeper, United States)

This presentation will discuss the frequency and environmental impacts of shipping container spills in the Gulf of Alaska. The geographic scope of known spills and the potential costs associated with mitigating those spills will also be discussed. The potential liability of parties responsible for shipping spills will be examined.


Flotsam and Jetsam: Evolving a Modern Regulatory Framework for an Acutely Modern Marine Debris Problem

presenting: Selina Lee-Andersen (McCarthy Tetrault LLP, Canada); authors: Selina Lee-Andersen (McCarthy Tetrault LLP, Canada), Elizabeth Steele (McCarthy Tetrault LLP)

The advent of modern plastics has fundamentally defined the way in which we live, work, play and consume goods. From food safety and medical innovations, to the electronics and automotive sectors, plastics are at the heart of almost every industry. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that our love affair with plastics and the conveniences they bring is leading to some very real world consequences, particularly for our oceans and supporting ecosystems. As the sheer magnitude of the marine debris issue becomes clearer, attention is turning to strategies for reducing the amount of plastics making their way to the oceans and managing their impacts on the marine environment. From a legal perspective, there is little doubt that the existing regulatory framework for marine pollution falls short of being able to tackle the uniquely modern and rapidly growing problem of plastic pollution. With a maze of domestic and local laws, intertwined with international and regional instruments, the current legal framework for dealing with marine pollution is complex to say the least. While the London Dumping Convention, MARPOL Convention and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea deal with vessel-sourced waste, there are few provisions to deal with land-based sources of pollution. This session will examine the legal mechanisms currently available to manage marine debris and what is needed to fill the regulatory gap. In addition, this session will consider some of the unique legal issues surrounding “blue entrepreneurship”, such as rights to the recovery and reuse of marine debris.