The oil spills we hear about in the news are most often associated with large catastrophes such as when oil rigs malfunction or a large ship sinks or leaks. However, most oil spills that happen at sea are actually
closer to land than one might think. According to ITOPF, 80% of all oil spills happen in connection to or in a port. This is due to the fact that most handling of oil happens just there when the ships re-fuel, load, or discharge.
When an oil spill occurs in a port the spill cleanup process needs to be very effective, as it is a busy area with ships leaving and coming at all times and every abruption in the procedures can be costly. Prevention, therefore, plays a big role. A regulation that is getting more common in port, to prevent spills, is that one needs containment- and absorption booms when refueling. This blocks the spill from spreading and absorbs any spilled oil, regardless if it is a larger spill or only a few drops of oil. Most ports also have trained personnel, clear guidelines, and equipment that can prevent and remove spilled oil.
However, if a spill were to happen, the procedures are similar to the ones else where on the sea. Firstly, containment and absorption booms are put around the spill, just
as when refueling. To take up the oil, skimmers are often put out primarily as they can take up large quantities. When there are smaller spills or when the sheen is thin, the skimmers are less effective and one therefore needs absorbent mats or pads and pillows, these floats on the water surface, has a large absorption area, and can absorb oil many times their own weight. Green Booms mats, for example, can absorb approximately 20 times its own weight in oil, without absorbing a drop of water. Loose sorbent is usually used last in the clean-up as the small fibers float on the surface and agglomerate and lock in thin sheens of oil or remaining drops.
To conclude, most oil spills at sea occur where the traffic is high, as in ports. There, the personnel is well trained to fast and effectively remove any traces of oil that has been released into nature. No matter where the port is located, the procedures for removing the oil are very similar. Starting with encircling the spilled oil with containment and absorption booms, then using skimmers, and absorbing the last traces with absorption mats, pillows, and loose sorbent. With clear prevention plans and the right equipment, oil spills can be handled safely and without causing large disruptions to daily operations.
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