LETTERS | Are oil spill removal vessels finally advancing?

Wakashio. Photo: Panama Maritime Authority

Dear editor,

The letters from your readers (and here) regarding the Wakashio oil spill are generating an excellent conversation from people who understand many aspects of the issue. Stephen Spark makes a very good point when he says, “The solutions won’t be arrived at through polemic, however, but a thorough and clear-sighted understanding of the facts.”  Polemic can be a useful tool to raise awareness, but by itself is not a solution to cleaning up oil spills on the ocean.

Alan Loynd, Managing Director of Branscombe Marine Consultants, nails it when he says, “It worked really well, but was simply too small to do any good on a large spill. It would take a fleet of thousands of such vessels to tackle a major spill, assuming the weather was calm enough for them to operate.”

Also, “the vessels will look good and engender warm and fuzzy feelings in the general population, but will not really achieve very much.”

Indeed, all existing oil spill technology that is deployed globally was invented 50 years ago, and has never worked effectively outside a harbour. Its two functions outside a harbour have always been to create the illusion of action in cleaning up the spill, and to make a fortune.

The oil spill experts “cleaning up” the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 earned US$140 million per day for 100 days (their total revenue was US$14 billion) for cleaning up only three per cent of the oil and creating a health and environmental catastrophe with oil dispersants and in-situ burning.

BP and the rest of the oil industry have always been taken for a ride by the oil spill professionals (an expensive ride). Ditto the shipping industry, which is also seen as the culprit for creating the mess when the oil spill cleanup fiasco hits the world media, which is why I say they are joined at the hip.

However, this statement by Mr Loynd is not completely accurate: “I also remain unconvinced about the new generation of oil spill removal vessels. This is not new technology and I operated a similar vessel in Hong Kong 20 years ago.”

While there have been zero improvements by the global oil spill industry since the 1970s, my company has developed new oil spill technology for the ocean and Arctic which solves the weaknesses listed by Mr Loynd (too small, unable to cope with even small waves and currents, poor visibility etc).

Utilising no moving parts, it can economically scale up to any size and strength. Being fully automated technology and utilising only gravity, it can operate orders of magnitude more efficiently than the highly successful “Big Gulp” oil spill barges. Jamie Cashman of Cashman Equipment says that our technology will transform the business case for his Big Gulp barges. We can reduce the cost to his customers by 95 per cent. Automation also opens the door to utilise modern autonomous vessel technologies.

We are also active in Arctic developments. In 2015, BSEE requested from us a full proposal to develop a 60-metre LOA Arctic oil spill barge. Also in 2015,we were invited by Dr Peter Wadhams to join an EU consortium to develop oil spill technology for the ocean. Dr Wadhams led the project, and consortium partners included Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems, Imperial College London and , and the Hamburg Ship Model Basin (HSVA).

Very best regards,

David Prior 


Extreme Spill Technology

Nova Scotia, Canada

Alan Loynd responds:

Even when the technology is commercially available, getting it to the site of a major spill (in Mauritius, for example) would be difficult and slow, and once the settling tanks on the barge are full you need to get rid of the oil, which is difficult enough in major ports and might be much more complicated in the developing world.

I don’t think we have solved the problem yet, although I hope we are moving in the right direction.

Best regards,

Alan Loynd

Managing Director, Branscombe Marine Consultants

Hong Kong

Baird Maritime

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