When it comes to the prevention of marine pollution, SOPEP and SMPEP are at the top of the list. They are the vessel’s response plans and procedures in case you have a spill on board.

You might have seen those big (sometimes small) yellow boxes on deck marked with SMPEP or SOPEP. What’s more interesting is that they contain the same equipment.

And for the record, some inspectors ask about their meaning and differences.

 

Does your ship use SOPEP or SMPEP? Why? What’s the difference between the two?

 

Other than they are distinct by a single letter, their entire meaning also differs by a single word.

SOPEP stands for Shipboard Oil Pollution Emergency Plan. Meanwhile, SMPEP stands  for Shipboard Marine Pollution Emergency Plan.

How do they differ from one another?

 

Oils spill equipment inside the yellow SOPEP box

Oils spill equipment inside the yellow SOPEP box.

 

What are SOPEP and SMPEP?

You can find more about SOPEP under Annex I of MARPOL 73/78 or the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships.

SMPEP on the other hand is under Annex II.

These two annexes comprise the most regulations found in MARPOL 73/78.

As a recap, Annex I is about the prevention of oil pollution and Annex II is about pollution by Noxious Liquid Substances (NLS).

Thus, SOPEP covers the prevention of pollution arising from an oil pollution incident and SMPEP prevents or controls pollution by Noxious Liquid Substances or chemicals.

When oil pills are on deck, it is not considered pollution. But when it spills on the water, it is officially called oil pollution.

This is the same with chemical spills on board.

Hence, you can find various techniques, methods, tools, and guidelines on how to prevent oil from reaching the sea in your Shipboard Oil Pollution Emergency Plan.

Similarly, it’s the same with Shipboard Marine Pollution Emergency Plan.

 

An example of SMPEP

An example of SMPEP.

 

Do all ships have SOPEP and SMPEP?

SOPEP may be implemented on a wide variety of ships but SMPEP is very specific.

This is how MARPOL specifies SOPEP carriers.

Every oil tanker of 150 gross tonnage and above and every ship other than an oil tanker of 400 gross tonnage and above shall carry on board a shipboard oil pollution emergency plan approved by the Administration.”

 

And this is what it has to say about SMPEP.

Every ship of 150 gross tonnage and above certified to carry noxious liquid substances in bulk shall carry on board a shipboard marine pollution emergency plan for noxious liquid substances approved by the Administration.”

 

As you see, tankers of at least 150 gross tonnage and ALL SHIPS of at least 400 gross tonnage must have a Shipboard Oil Pollution Emergency Plan.

This means that passenger ships, container vessels, general cargo ships, research vessels, and those meeting the size requirement must have an approved SOPEP on board even if they don’t carry oil cargoes.

Why?

Because they have heavy fuel oil and/ or diesel oil carried in their bunker tanks and those are still covered in Annex I of MARPOL.

Meanwhile, SMPEP is only required for ships certified to carry noxious liquid substances or chemical cargoes.

 

Oil spill drill wherein the crew uses sawdust to clean oil spill.

Oil spill drill wherein the crew uses sawdust to clean oil spill.

 

What about Oil/ Chemical Tankers?

Some ships can carry both oil and noxious liquid substances.

This may imply that they must carry both SOPEP and SMPEP.

However, this is not the case.

Regulation 37.3 of the shipboard oil pollution emergency plan states that:

“In the case of ships to which regulation 17 of Annex II of the present Convention also applies, such a plan may be combined with the shipboard marine pollution emergency plan for noxious liquid substances required under regulation 17 of Annex II of the present Convention.

In this case, the title of such a plan shall be “Shipboard Marine Pollution Emergency Plan.”

 

Regulation 17 of the shipboard marine pollution emergency plan for noxious liquid substances echoes this by saying:

“In the case of ships to which regulation 37 of Annex I of the Convention also applies, such a plan may be combined with the shipboard oil pollution emergency plan required under regulation 37 of Annex I of the Convention.

In this case, the title of such a plan shall be “Shipboard Marine Pollution Emergency Plan.”

 

This means that vessels certified to carry oil and noxious liquid substances can only have an approved Shipboard Marine Pollution Emergency Plan (SMPEP).

They must incorporate the specific requirements for dealing with oil spills and oil prevention in their approved SMPEP.

 

What other specifics do SOPEP and SMPEP provide?

We could at least agree that the plan for SOPEP and SMPEP mirrors each other.

Since these are general guidelines, they do share most of the contents.

 

SOPEP and SMPEP

SOPEP and SMPEP

 

These are the following.

  1. Both SOPEP and SMPEP must have procedures to be followed by the master or other persons having charge of the ship to report an oil or noxious liquid substances pollution incident, as required in article 8 and Protocol I of the present Convention, based on the Guidelines developed by the Organization.
  2. They must have a list of authorities or persons to be contacted in the event of an oil or noxious liquid substances pollution incident.
  3. SOPEP and SMPEP must have a detailed description of the action to be taken immediately by persons on board to reduce or control the discharge of oil or noxious liquid substances following the incident; and
  4. They mustinclude procedures and points of contact on the ship for coordinating shipboard action with national and local authorities in combating the pollution.

In number 2, the IMO updates the list of authorities quarterly. You can find them here on their website.

May the winds  be in your favor.

 

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