What Is Shipboard Oil Pollution Emergency Plan (SOPEP)

SOPEP or Shipboard Oil Pollution Emergency Plan; is a pollution prevention plan as per chapter five regulation 37 of the MARPOL Annex 1. All oil tankers above 150 GT and other ships above 400 GT; are required to carry an oil prevention plan approved by Maritime administrations.

The emergency plan outlines the course of action to be followed in the event of oil pollution; concerning its identification, assessment, immediate actions, reporting, and control of spill.

On ships that contain one combined plan for both oil and noxious liquid substances; it is also called a Shipboard Marine Pollution Emergency Plan or SMPEP.

The purpose of such a plan is to guide and assist the ship’s personnel in dealing with unexpected events like accidental oil discharge.

Being the overall in-charge of the SOPEP; its Master’s responsibility to set in motion the necessary actions to stop, minimize, and prevent oil pollution.

Further, it provides the Master and designated officers with a practical guide on how to report an oil pollution incident; list of coastal/port contacts, preventive measures, and appropriate response action in event of actual discharge.

What is the purpose of SOPEP?

The purpose of SOPEP is to provide a written guide on the initial response; to an oil spill on ship prepared in accordance with the “Guidelines for the development of the Shipboard Oil Pollution Emergency Plan – IMO” under MEPC.54(32) and MEPC.86(44).

The plan contains a detailed guide on the action required in event of an oil spill; reporting procedures, when to report, how to report, whom to report, what to report, navigational measures, the basic layout of the ship, general duties, and seamanship measures.

SOPEP summary flow chart

Primary objectives of Shipboard Oil Pollution Emergency Plan:

  • To provide a contingency plan for all crew and personnel on board; in event of accidental discharge of oil into waters.
  • Prevent, stop, and minimize oil spill from accidents such as grounding, hull damage, or operational oil discharge; like an unintentional escape of bunker oil while bunkering operation.
  • To contain the spread of the oil spill and minimize its effects; carrying out cleaning efforts before dedicated cleaning team reach.
  • Produce a report on oil pollution incident.
  • Dedicated reporting procedures for dedicated authorities such as the coast guards, port, ship’s manager, cargo owner, rescue coordination center, etc.
  • To assist master or any other concerned officer in dealing with the events coordinating with national/local authorities.

Contents of Shipboard Oil Pollution Emergency Plan

The SOPEP plan generally consists of 4 sections; its preamble, layout + flowcharts, Reporting requirements, and Steps to control discharge.

The preamble lays the general introduction about the SOPEP and its primary objectives.

The layout and flowchart section contains the general layout of the ship, escape routes, other information specefic to ship ( ex: owners name ), fire hose connection and a detailed SOPEP response flowchart to follow in times of emergency.

Its third section on reporting requirements deals with when and what to report in case of actual or a probable discharge. It also has a subsection on Information Required in context of the Reporting Requirements.

Further, it contains a list of contacts to reach in such events including coastal, port, and other ship’s interest contacts ( local agent of the company, owner, operator, clean-up contractors, etc ).

In the last section dealing with steps to control discharge; it stays clear instruction on cleaning, containing and handling instruction for operational spills and spill resulting from causalities / accidents.

Many of these plan also includes a section for additional information concerning to; record keeping, public affairs, drilling procedures, national and local coordination procedures.

1 ) Section 1: Preamble

  • This plan serves as the response guide in dealing with unexpected events such as accidental discharge of oil.
  • To respond effectively to an unexpected discharge we need to have structured plans ready to ensure correct actions are taken in a timely, logical, safe and structured manner.
  • The real purpose of this plan is to provide Master with procedures to report, prevent, stop and minimize an oil pollution event.
  • This plan is in working language of the ship and and has been approved by the administration with Master of the ship as its in-charge.
  • On oil tanker the actual action plan can differ based on cargo tanks filled with oil and its handling.
  • To provide ready reference to those in-charge the plan contains a general layout of the ship, tanks capacity charts, various oil lines, position of vents, general arrangement of hull and upper deck.
  • Envisioned by regulation 26 of MARPOL Annex 1 its a simple document complying regulation 37 ( Marpol Annex 1 ) and MEPC code 54(32), 86(44) of IMO.

2 ) Section 3: Reporting Requirements

  • Under the terms of MARPOL 73/ 78 article 8 and Protocol 1 the master of the ship is required to inform the nearest Coastal State; without delay about the incident ( Actual or probable discharges of oil into waters ).
  • The reporting procedure to be followed must comply with the guidelines set by the International Maritime Organization resolution A.851(20). A set of reporting guidelines for harmful substances, dangerous goods, and marine pollutants.
  • For easy reference to reporting duties and processes, one can easily follow the summary flowchart on reporting requirements.
  • In the event of actual discharge, the Master is obliged to report if the discharge of oil; results from damage to the ship, damage to its equipment, during operations, or for the purpose of saving lives at sea.
  • The Master is obliged to report to concerned authorities; even when there is no actual discharge of oil. But just a high probability of it under serious breakdown, failures, collision, grounding, flooding, or fire.
  • Further, it contains a list of contacts to reach in such events including coastal; port, and other ship’s interest contacts ( local agent of the company, owner, operator, clean-up contractors, etc ).
  • A sample format for initial notification can be found at the end of this section. All followup reports must also include major actions; taken by the master to contain the discharge of oil and other information relevant to coastal authorities.

3 ) Section 4: Steps to Control Discharge

  • It is the duty of the person to report it to the Master or responsible officer on board the moment he or she finds about the oil spill.
  • Different actions are needed to mitigate or control different types of an oil spill; thus SOPEP has a separate action plan for operational and accidental oil discharge.
  • The most common cause of operational spill are; pipe leakage, leakage from bunkering/transfers, hull leakage, and bunker tank overflow.
  • In event of the operational oil spill the course of action should be as follows; inform costal authorities, activate cleanup procedures, stop oil flow, locate-stop and rectify the leakage, take photographs, prepare to pump out oil in another tank/ashore, determine the quantity of oil spill, complete cleanup and log it down.
  • The most common cause for oil spills resulting from accidents are; grounding, explosion/fire, the extension of hull damage, collision, etc.
  • Specific action plans are there to meet the specific challenge that arose in that particular situation.
  • In all actions taken in events of spill due to accidents; the first priority is to ensure ship’s stability, then contain the spill, transfer oil, then inform authorities/coast guards, activate cleanup team, do sounding of all tanks, access the state of emergency and request assistance accordingly.

Helpful Resource: Sample SOPEP Plan to study and refer ( External Link ).

General Responsibilities of Crew Under SOPEP

Crew Ranking
Duties
Master
He is overall in-charge of the SOPEP operation onboard dealing with oil discharge. He needs to ensure the plan is executed accordingly and all crew members are complying with it. Further, he is also responsible for logs, reporting, and action.
Chief Officer
The actual in-charge of operations on deck and keeps the Master informed of the actions and results.
Chief Engineer
The actual in-charge of operations in engine room he informs the Master on action taken and their results. Further, he is also in charge of the bunkering operation and takes actions to limit oil leakages/spill.
Deck Duty Officer
The job of deck duty officer is to assist in the works of the chief officer; mobilize off duty crew and inform Chief officer/ Chief Engineer in event of an oil spill.
Duty Engineer
The job of duty engineer is to assist chief engineer on watch, Organize on board clean-up equipment, maintain full operational status, ensure power and water supply to the deck. In addition, he also assists in oil transfer operation, preparation of SOPEP material, and firefighting.
Duty Rating
Duty rating alert and notify concerned duty officer or engineer in event of oil leakage. Prepares clean-up material and take part in clean up and firefighting duties.

What is the SOPEP locker?

Under regulation 37 under Marpol annex 1 all ships above 400 GRT and oil tankers above 150 GRT; must have a shipboard oil pollution emergency plan ( SOPEP ) onboard ship. This also requires for SOPEP material to effectively respond to pollution events.

The plan includes the location of the SOPEP locker which contains a list of SOPEP equipment that came in handy in cleaning efforts or simply contain an oil spill. The list of such equipment are as follows:

SOPEP Equipment’s:

  1. Absorbent Pads and Rolls
  2. Wilden pump
  3. Oil booms
  4. Empty drum
  5. Bucket
  6. Sawdust
  7. Scrappers
  8. Gloves
  9. Mask
  10. Oil cleaning chemical
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Amit Abhishek

A Marine engineer turned professional blogger who had started Shipfever.com In Jan 2018 after a brief experience at sea.

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