When it comes to oil spills, especially in the marine environment, every second can make the difference between a minor incident and an environmental disaster.

Under the UK’s Merchant Shipping (Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation Convention) Regulations 1998, motor vessel operators are responsible for upholding the highest standards in preventing and managing oil spills – an obligation that is a statutory requirement as well as a sound principle.

Oil spill

Source: Greenpeace

Oil spill

Richard O’Connor, director of UK firm FirstMats, says oil spill management is far from being a luxury and should be treated as an absolutely necessity. Even minor leaks can accumulate over time and cause devastation, he says.

“It requires a combination of effective tools such as hydrophobic absorbents, thorough crew training and comprehensive emergency planning,” he says. “Above all, it requires a commitment to protecting our seas. As those responsible for operating motor vessels, we hold the helm in safeguarding our marine ecosystems.”

One effective way of dealing with oil spills is by using hydrophobic absorbents, which come in various forms, such as pads, rolls and booms, and have been specifically engineered to absorb oils and other hydrocarbons while repelling water.

“The absorbent booms are particularly useful in containing larger spills,” he says. “By floating on the water’s surface, they prevent the spread of the oil, making the clean-up operation far more manageable and reducing the extent of the environmental impact. But what about smaller leaks that may occur within the engine room of a vessel?

“That’s where smaller hydrophobic absorbents and spill kits come into play,” O’Connor says. “These can be easily stored onboard and are perfect for quickly and effectively dealing with minor spills or leaks within the vessel itself. Having these absorbents readily available means that any spills can be swiftly managed before they become a more significant issue.

“The strength of these absorbents lies not only in their oil-absorbing capabilities but also in their longevity. Unlike some alternatives, some hydrophobic absorbents can be wrung out and reused multiple times before reaching saturation, making them an efficient and cost-effective choice for any vessel operator.”

O’Connor says crew training is also vital for using the kits, and should be integrated into any vessel’s oil spill management strategy with regular drills and assessments.