Small Developing Island Nations: The Need for Increased Financial Protection from Bunker Oil Spill Pollution


Imagine that you are sitting in your car in the middle of a parking lot. Through no fault of your own, a truck, owned by a major corporation, crashes directly into you, causing $1 million worth of long-term damage. In the United States, tort law allows you to recover from this corporation based on the dollar amount of damages you incurred. Imagine though, that because of the weight of the truck, and the contents of the truck’s cargo, laws capped your financial recovery at $2,000, leaving you $998,000 in the red. How can a system like this ever truly protect you? This scenario represents the situation caused by the MV Wakashio when it was grounded off the coast of Mauritius, dumping 1,200 tons of bunker oil into the surrounding waters. However, instead of incurring damages of $1 million, Mauritius could suffer over $10 billion in harm. Even after applying oil spill indemnification conventions, Mauritius will likely have to account for over $9.9 billion in damages. The applicable indemnification conventions are inadequate to compensate for the damage to the country’s coast, leaving this Small Island Developing State (“SIDS”) to fend for itself. The current state of bunker oil spill conventions leaves SIDS without hope of recovering the actual damages they suffer from oil spills like the MV Wakashio. The International Maritime Organization (“IMO”), over the course of the last half century, has addressed this problem and created protections against oil-tankers that run aground and cause extensive pollution damage. However, they have not extended the full breadth of this coverage to bunker oil spills that are, like the MV Wakashio, a product of non-oil tanker vessels which have grown substantially in size and usage and endanger the most vulnerable nations. The objective of this note is to advocate for a solution to provide adequate liability coverage through an extension of current oil spill conventions by expanding their coverage, or for the IMO to promulgate a new convention to protect SIDS. First, I offer an overview of the recent oil spill in Mauritius. Second, I provide a detailed explanation of the vulnerability of SIDS and why they need these new protections. Third, I discuss the current IMO conventions related to oil spill disasters. Last, I present potential policy options to amend the IMO conventions to improve the current indemnification protection available for nations harmed by these oil spills.



Michael Garland (Washington University in St. Louis)



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