Compliance and Enforcement in International Law–Oil Pollution of the Marine Environment by Ocean Vessels

Dempsey, Paul Stephen | January 1, 1984

The United Nations has responded to marine pollution by charging its specialized agency, the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization (“IMCO”), with the dual obligations of improving mari- time safety and preventing marine pollution. Yet, despite several major conventions intended to eliminate outmoded tanker designs and pollut- ing practices, oil spills and discharges continue. This article will address the question of compliance with and en- forcement of international agreements concerning oil pollution by tank- ers. In particular, it will analyze the enforcement and compliance records of maritime nations under the existing international legal re- gime-OILPOL. It will be demonstrated that the effectiveness of such conventions is significantly undermined by the concept that the high seas are a “commons,” for the common enjoyment (and abuse) of all mankind, and by the legal fiction of “flags of convenience.” The significance of this analysis is accentuated by the fact that we now stand on the threshold of a new international legal order for the high seas, one which may have profound implications for the question of mari- time pollution.