Bunkering in a country’s exclusive economic zone should be regulated, with the operation falling within the jurisdiction of the coastal zone, a Maltese judge declared in an international maritime tribunal ruling.

The case followed the confiscation of an oil tanker by Guinea-Bassau, which, the tribunal found, violated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Bunkering of whatever type of ship may cause environmental harm

In a joint declaration with Argentinian Judge Elisa Kelly, Judge David Attard referred to bunkering and the risks to, and responsibilities for, the protection of the marine environment.

“Bunkering of whatever type of ship may cause environmental harm to the exclusive economic zone. We therefore feel the need to declare our view concerning the regulation of bunkering in the exclusive economic zone.

“Specifically, we consider that bunkering in general falls under the jurisdiction of the coastal State,” the two tribunal members said.

The tribunal felt that the Guinean authorities did not have to confiscate the Panama-registered vessel, M/V Virginia G, and the gas oil it was carrying.

The vessel was carrying out refuelling operations for fishing boats in Guinea-Bissau’s exclusive economic zone when it was arrested on August 21, 2009, by the Guinean authorities.

The tribunal found the confiscation was not necessary, whether to sanction the violation committed or to deter the vessel or the operators from repeating the violation.

The tanker did not have the written authorisation required by Guinean law for bunkering but this failure was the consequence of a misinterpretation of the correspondence between the representatives of the fishing vessels and the authorities rather than an intentional violation of the laws and regulations, the tribunal noted.

Also sitting on the tribunal was Judge Markiyan Kulyk from Ukraine.

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