A large commercial vessel had arrived at a port. A representative from a sludge removal company presented himself to the Master and asked if the ship had sludge to discharge. It was the normal practice of the company for such arrangements to be made via the agent with an approved contractor but on this occasion the master contracted the service directly. The discharge was to be into a truck.
Prior to the discharge, it was noted that the connections between the hose sections were wrapped with plastic tape. The contractor advised that this was the hose normally used. The discharge was commenced. After about one hour, a hose connection failed and a small quantity of sludge was spilled onto the jetty and into the sea.
The company investigated the incident. The immediate cause of the pollution was the failure of the coupling. The root cause was the inappropriate contracting of the sludge removal company without the knowledge of the agent and without prior approval of a relevant authority.
There were “red and amber warning signs” prior to the operation that it was not safe to proceed. These were not heeded.
The company’s report highlighted that the reason for arranging slop removal via the agent with an approved contractor is to ensure safe disposal. If sludge and slops are not taken to a proper facility but instead are dumped, there could be serious risk to the environment, possible poisoning of water supplies and harm to the local population.
We welcome receiving reports such as this so that the learning can be shared. This case highlights that what may initially appear to be a minor non-conformance with procedures can lead to serious risk to people and the environment beyond the boundaries of the ship and port.