Building Trust: Examining the Emergency Response to Maritime Ecological Incidents in the Past Year

Maritime Environmental

Over the last 12 months, several high-profile maritime environmental accidents took place around the world, prompting widespread concerns over their respective impact on our planet's ecosystems. From leaks at nuclear power plants to oil spills, each incident left its mark on the environment and raised questions about the efficacy of response efforts. Oceanic Focus will look at some of the major threats and incidents at the forefront of discussions over the protection of marine environments. As we examine the impacts of these events and the strategies employed by authorities to mitigate their consequences, it becomes clear that environmental stewardship is an urgent priority in safeguarding the well-being of both people and the planet, particularly in response to such incidents.

MT Princess Empress Oil Tanker, Verde Island Passage, Philippines – March 2023

In March 2023, the MT Princess Empress oil tanker sank in the Verde Island Passage, a globally renowned marine biodiversity hotspot in the Philippines. The spill devastated the ecosystem, contaminating over 20,000 hectares of coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass meadows. While cleanup efforts concluded in June 2023, the long-term impact remains unclear. Though life has returned to normal for most, the spill reignited calls for stronger protection of the Verde Island Passage. Proposals such as declaring the passage a national protected seascape aim to balance economic development with safeguarding this vital ecosystem and the communities who depend on it. This incident serves as a stark reminder of the vulnerability of marine environments and the need for proactive conservation measures to ensure the sustainable future of these precious resources.

Atlantic Oil Spill – September 2023 (estimated date)

On 30th January 2024 the Arayara Institute, an environmental NGO opposing fossil fuels, alerted Brazilian authorities about a potential oil leak 438 km off the coast of Amapá State, after discovering satellite images from September 2023 showing a 170 Km2 oil stain. The stain is estimated to have come from a Panamanian vessel. The episode highlights the complications associated with incidents that take place in international waters. With the suggested leak point situated outside Brazil's Exclusive Economic Zone, the authorities may have either overlooked the incident, or neglected responsibility. This highlights the importance of effective governance, clear jurisdictional frameworks, and coordinated international efforts to detect and respond to hazardous situations immediately.

Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Leak – February 2024

A leak of contaminated water, potentially containing radioactive materials including cesium and strontium, was discovered at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (FDNPP) on February 7th, 2024. The leak originated from a pipe connected to a device used to remove cesium from water. Thankfully the extent of the damage was limited, with the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), able to stop the leak within a few hours, avoiding injury to anyone in the vicinity and mitigating any spike in radiation levels outside the plant. The affected soil next to the power plant has since been removed, with TEPCO stating that soil samples now show radiation levels to be back to normal. That said, this incident highlights the risks associated with managing radioactive waste, and effective management necessary to prevent or mitigate further occurrences.


The above is not an extensive list, and early in 2024 the world has already seen further disasters, with oil spills in Trinidad and Tobago, and the Red Sea following the Houthi sinking of a British ship in the Red Sea in February. These incidents demonstrate two of the most prominent risks to marine ecosystems today – the transportation of toxic materials such as fossil fuels and other industrial chemicals, and the deposit of radioactive waste from nuclear facilities. These events underscore the importance of effective monitoring in avoiding and mitigating the impact of accidents that can, and do, occur. The FDNPP incident is testament to this, with the close monitoring of the ALPS apparatus enabling TEPCO to immediately contain the leak, and avoid nuclear waste from entering the ocean. While this may not be entirely transferable to the transportation of fossil fuels, highlighting a possible advantage of nuclear energy over the distribution of fossil fuels, it is apparent that closer monitoring across the board will be essential to improving response and recovery efforts in future instances.