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Oil spill Port of Rotterdam (Source: Harbour police Rotterdam)
Oil spill Port of Rotterdam (Source: Harbour police Rotterdam)

Oil spill Port of Rotterdam

Status : Closed

On Saturday, 23 June 2018, the chemical and oil tanker Bow Jubail collided with a jetty at the company LBC Tank Terminals, in the port of Rotterdam. As a consequence of this collision, a hole was punched in the ship’s skin adjacent to the single-walled fuel tank, through which a total of 217.4 tonnes of heavy fuel oil poured into the water. Because action was taken on board the Bow Jubail immediately following the collision, to pump oil from the damaged fuel tank, the escape of around 20 tonnes of oil was prevented.

Oil spill Port of Rotterdam

Necessity for maximum focus on prevention

The allision of Bow Jubail with the jetty was a direct consequence of the incorrect assessment of the rudder position following an incorrect steering command from the Master. The combination of a number of underlying factors also played a role in the puncturing of the vessel: the tide, the shape of the vessel, the shape of the quayside, the selected manoeuvre and the preparations for that manoeuvre. The risk that a similar incident with precisely this combination of factors could recur is relatively small. An allision of a vessel with a single-walled fuel tank can however in other circumstances also result in a considerable oil spill. This incident shows that the consequences of such a spill can be far-reaching. This illustrates the necessity for maximum focus on prevention.

Organisation of crisis management

Following the allision, some of the fuel oil from the vessel became submerged, and as a result became lost from view by the persons responsible for carrying out the oil clean-up. Their focus was on a rapid response in accordance with practised scenarios. This meant that the oil clean-up operation was aimed at a situation in which all oil remains floating on the water, that must then be contained using oil containment screens. This strategy proved partly effective in this case because the screens were unable to prevent the spread of the oil that was suspended below the surface of the water. There was no scenario for oil that mixes with the harbour water, and as a result the persons responsible for the clean-up operation were not prepared for this situation.

The Safety Board notes that following the allision, the parties involved did tackle the oil clean-up operation with considerable dedication and effort. However, the investigation has revealed that the agreements and harmonization between the three parties involved proved insufficient. The VRR, the DHMR and Rijkswaterstaat all have a legal task with regard to oil pollution in water. The Rotterdam Harbour Master’s Division of the Port Authority bears the greatest operational responsibility for oil clean-up. However, the Port Authority does not have the resources or knowledge to ensure that an oil spill of this size is tackled as effectively as possible. This makes cooperation with other parties vital. This necessity for cooperation also applies for VRR and Rijkswaterstaat, because they too do

not have the resources (e.g. vessels) to independently carry out a major clean-up operation for oil or other forms of pollution in the entire port and the surrounding area. To make this possible, both formal agreements and joint preparation for major disasters must be improved.



The Dutch Safety Board issues the following recommendations:

With regard to preventing an (oil) spill in the port of Rotterdam:

To the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management:

1. Place on the agenda of both the European Union and the International Maritime Organization the ambition to bring forward the date for phasing out seagoing vessels with single-walled fuel tanks. For this purpose, make use of the seat occupied by the Netherlands over the next two years on the IMO Council.

To Odfjell Ship Management and Loodswezen Rotterdam-Rijnmond (Pilotage Service):

2. Ensure that it is clear to all parties how a manoeuvre is to be undertaken and exactly what is expected of them during that manoeuvre. In the framework of Bridge Resource Management (BRM), actively make this information available to all crew members and check regularly that the BRM system is applied.

To the Port of Rotterdam Authority, DHMR and Odfjell Ship Management:

3. For all seagoing vessels visiting the port, ensure that before they enter the port area, the port authorities know whether the vessels are equipped with single-walled fuel tanks.

4. Draw up an inventory of the key safety risks involving seagoing vessels with single-walled fuel tanks for (the area surrounding) the port and take measures to mitigate these risks. These must include but not be restricted to:

  • identifying and creating (guidelines for) appropriate moorings;
  • manoeuvring support by (specific types of) tugboats;
  • the timing of mooring operations in relation to water levels and the shape and cargo of the vessel.

To the Port of Rotterdam Authority and DHMR:

5. Together with national and international ports, draw up additional safety requirements on seagoing vessels with single-walled fuel tanks.

With regard to oil recovery:

The Port of Rotterdam Authority, DHMR and Rijkswaterstaat:

6. Invest in knowledge and innovation in relation to oil clean-up and restricting the spillage of oil. Make use of the knowledge available abroad.

7. Develop scenarios about oil spillages or spillages of other substances in which factors such as tide, current, and type and volume of the substance play a role, and use these scenarios in the operational choices and preparations for disasters.

8. In the event of a disaster, ensure that aerial support is immediately available and ensure that information and images can be rapidly exchanged and used.

With regard to the organisation of crisis management:

To the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management:

9. Ensure that Rijkswaterstaat actually fulfils its responsibility for the quality of the surface water in the port of Rotterdam. This calls for cooperation agreements with the other stakeholders at tactical, operational and strategic level. Check whether these matters are also well-organised at other locations in the country.

To the Port of Rotterdam Authority, DHMR, the Rijnmond-Rotterdam Security Region and Rijkswaterstaat:

10. Improve preparations for large-scale oil spills at tactical, operational and strategic level, by drawing up a disaster management plan and organising joint exercises.

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