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Pollution at Sea by Discharge of Oil

Nature volume 135, page 298 (23 February 1935) | Download Citation



IN July last, the British Government, stating that representations had been made to it that the pollution of the coasts of the British Isles by the discharge of oil and oily matter outside the territorial limits by ships was increasing, suggested that the matter be referred for preliminary examination to the Communications and Transit Organisation of the League of Nations, with the view of concluding if possible an international convention. At the last Assembly, this view was further explained by the British representative and it was decided that an initial inquiry should be undertaken. Experts from Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, the United States and Great Britain were invited to Geneva by the chairman of the Advisory and Technical Committee on Communications and Transit. These experts agreed that oil pollution caused the destruction of sea-birds, the wings of which become saturated with oil so that they cannot swim, fly or dive; of fish, particularly shellfish, and of the marine grasses which form the staple food of fish and sea-birds. The pollution of sea-beaches by oil results in harm to bathers and depreciation in value of seaside resorts, and constitutes a menace to public health; finally, the accumulation of oil drifting into harbours offers a serious risk of fire. These evils exist to a varying extent in many countries and the object in view is to provide, by international agreement, some means whereby oil-burning and oil-carrying ships may be prevented from polluting, through the discharge of oil and oily mixtures on the high seas, the coasts to which the matter is liable to drift. Some causes of pollution such as collision, or the pouring of oil on to the sea during storm to assist vessels in distress, cannot be prevented, but it is possible by co-operation to guard against voluntary discharge outside territorial limits, and the Committee of Experts recommend that an appropriate international convention should be concluded.

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