HC Deb 29 July 1931 vol 255 cc2297-301

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the equipment of oil carrying ships with separators for freeing from oil the liquid discharged therefrom and generally to make provision against the pollution of the seas by oil. I am asking leave to introduce this Bill in response to a great and growing demand in different parts of the country, not only from private individuals, but from municipal councils and from harbour authorities. The object of the Bill is to make compulsory the equipment of British ships within the meaning of the Act with a separator which will have the effect of separating, from the liquid discharged from the ship, the fuel oil which, otherwise, is mixed up with the water. The effect of the separator is not merely to separate the oil from the water, but to enable the oil to be retained in the ship, so that, instead of being lost overboard, as otherwise it would be, it can be used, and thus save an enormous amount of waste.

There are many kinds of separators, but the fundamental function of them all is the separation of water from oil. I have here two specimens which will serve to illustrate the effect to the House. The one consists of fuel oil and water mixed together, before going through the separator, and the other of the water extracted from the mixture as the result of its going through the separator. From these specimens hon. Members will be able to appreciate what it will mean to the state of the ocean over the whole world if these separators are fitted in ships. At the present time, as we have heard to-day from the First Lord of the Admiralty, oil separators are fitted in certain ships of His Majesty's Navy, and they are also fitted in tankers. They are fitted in most of the ships of the Cunard Line, the Elder Dempster Line, the Bibby Line and the Union-Castle Line. I have received letters from all of these shipping companies, and every one of them says that the separators are entirely satisfactory, that the cost of their upkeep is practically nil, and that there is an enormous saving in fuel. The Bibby Line say that the chief offenders are tankers, which empty out their large tanks periodically, and Government and Admiralty vessels, which, not being subject to economic results, do not take the steps which those working for profit do.

4.0 p.m.

The point with regard to the separator is that, once fitted, it requires little or no attention—it works by itself. The cost of its upkeep is practically nil, and another advantage is that in course of time it practically pays for itself out of the oil it saves. That is the experience of these big shipping lines which have adopted it so far. The tonnage of oil-driven ships has increased from 1,500,000 tons in 1914 to 27,850,000 tons in 1930, and it is estimated that 2,000,000 gallons of this crude oil are discharged out of the ships into the sea every day. That, of course, is an estimate; I cannot guarantee the exact amount to half a pint; but that is the estimate that has been made. The result of this discharge of oil is four-fold. It fouls the beaches and detracts from the amenities of seaside places. It wanders about on the surface of the sea in harbours, and has caught fire there. It has drifted into coveys of sea-birds, which have been destroyed owing to the effect on their bills, eyes and feathers, rendering them unable to fly, eat or see, and they have drifted ashore in thousands on all parts of our coasts. It has a very deleterious effect on the fishing industry of this country, and on the fishes' eggs and breeding grounds on the surface of the water and on the bed of the ocean. If I may mention ray own constituency—I do not know why one should not mention one's own constituency—apart from various other agencies in the town, the officials of the Brighton Aquarium last year treated over 100 birds, and only three were able to recover. In Folkestone, in April of this year, 77 sea birds were washed ashore in a helpless condition. Twenty-six were already dead, and the remainder were so disabled, owing to their beaks and their eyes being clogged, that they had to be destroyed. Then we had the evidence of Mr. Hardy, of the British Naturalists' Association, who saw off the Hampshire coast a collection of 50 birds in a small patch of water, helpless, dying from starvation, and unable to eat any of the fish that was offered to them. Those are a few examples of what is happening at the present time.

The Bill that was passed in 1922, the Oil in Navigable Waters Act, fixed a limit of three miles from the coast where this oil should not be discharged. In 1926, the International Conference on Oil Pollution at Washington extended that distance to anything from 50 to 150 miles, according to coast-line. I say it is perfectly useless to have any limit, because in due course, whether that limit be 60 or 500 miles, the oil will come into shore, and the only remedy is to prevent the pollution of the sea altogether. The big shipping lines I have mentioned set an excellent example to the smaller lines, and if all fitted these separators, we should get rid of the difficulty altogether. There may be some objection raised on account of the space taken away from the ship by the installation of the separator. That is met in the Bill, because the amount of space involved would be deducted from the tonnage, and if there were any dispute the Board of Trade would arbitrate in the matter.

The cost would be comparatively small in the case of boats like the Brixham class of trawler, namely, £10 or £15, in mass production. For a liner of 10,000 tons, the cost would be between £230 and £250, and, as I said before, a great deal of initial cost is met by the amount of fuel saving, while the upkeep is trivial. In this country in the past we have been legislating day in and day out, and year in and year out, to improve hygienic conditions upon the land, and all that I am asking by this Bill is that we should do the same thing on the sea. We have reduced our Navy very materially, but we are still the largest maritime Power in the world, and although Britannia may not rule the waves, there is no reason why she should not keep them clean, and set an example to other countries. If we set that example to other countries by passing legislation, we may at Geneva get other nations of the world to follow our example.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Cooper Rawson, Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy, Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, Captain Peter Macdonald, Mr. Mander, Mr. Philip Oliver, and Mr. Womersley.

  1. OIL POLLUTION BILL, 55 words