Royal Decree 186/2023 and Situations of Anchoring of Tankers or Other Vessels Carrying Substances Harmful to the Marine Environment, when They Are Not Bound for Any Port or Terminal Located in Spain

Pursuant to its Sixth Final Provision, Royal Decree 186/2023, of 21 March, which approves the Regulation on the Organisation of Maritime Navigation (which is inserted below), came into force on 11 April 2023, with the exception of Chapters II, III and IV thereof, on the regime applicable to the dispatch of vessels, the role of dispatch and manning, and the enrolment and disenrolment regime of crew members, respectively, of the Regulations on the Organisation of Maritime Navigation, which will enter into force on 1 July 2024.

As stated in Article 2, Maritime Navigation Regulation is applicable both to civil ships and vessels flying the Spanish flag, as well as to those flying foreign flags when sailing in maritime areas in which Spain exercises sovereignty, sovereign rights or jurisdiction (reference to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea / UNCLOS), with the exception of warships, other State ships and vessels, ships and vessels of the State Security Forces and Corps and of the Customs Surveillance Service.

Having determined its scope of application and entry into force, we will now focus on the regime of this Royal Decree in relation to the use of Spanish maritime spaces outside the territorial sea (i.e. the contiguous zone or the exclusive economic zone) as a place of anchorage by product tankers, chemical tankers, gas tankers or other vessels carrying substances polluting the marine environment and not bound for any port or terminal located in Spain, as set out in Articles 44 and 45, within Chapter VIII of the Royal Decree.

Article 44 states that this type of vessel, when transporting substances that pollute the marine environment and which, without having a port or terminal located in Spain as a destination or discharge point for all or part of their cargo, intend to use Spanish maritime spaces outside the territorial sea as a place to anchor, while awaiting orders, instructions or any other similar circumstance, must have the express authorisation of the corresponding Harbour Master.

In other words, the above types of vessels in such circumstances, prior to carrying out the anchoring operation, must have formulated and submitted a request to this effect (the content of which shall be as provided for in paragraph 2 of this Article 44, such as estimated time of arrival, port of origin, type of cargo, etc.) and obtain the express authorisation (not tacit) of the corresponding Harbour Master’s Office.

The Harbour Master may authorise or refuse such a request, taking into account the conditions under which the anchoring will be carried out, as well as the avoidance of damage that could result from an accident involving this type of vessel.

Once an authorisation to anchor has been granted, the ship shall (i) anchor in the geographical position indicated, (ii) undergo, where appropriate, a safety inspection on arrival at the anchorage, the result of which may lead to the adoption of precautionary measures or even the revocation of the anchoring authorisation.

Likewise, if it is desired to remain at anchor, the vessel must hire a tug with sufficient pulling power in relation to the vessel in question, which must be equipped with pollution control equipment, which must be kept permanently operational for the duration of the stay. Furthermore, the propulsion equipment must be kept in immediate operation at all times, the fire-fighting system line must be pressurised and, in addition, the regulatory anchoring signals must be maintained, and all deck and bridge lights must be illuminated throughout the night.

Furthermore, a vessel wishing to remain at anchor must check its geographical position periodically and record it in the logbook every hour. Along these lines, the captain must inform the Rescue Coordination Centre every four hours of the exact anchoring position and of any new development that may affect the safety of the vessel and crew, especially when the anchoring position is altered for external reasons, such as weather conditions. Obviously, the duty is also imposed to maintain the corresponding bridge and engine watches, checking the starting system in each of them. In particular, there is a requirement that at least one suitably qualified officer and one suitably qualified crew member must be on the bridge at all times.

It is also forbidden to carry out any cargo transfer, tank cleaning or repair work on machinery and deck without the corresponding authorisation while at anchor, given the high risk of pollution to the marine environment that such operations would entail.

Finally, it is imposed that all changes and movements of the vessel’s crew during its stay in the anchorage shall take place for justified reasons and with the prior authorisation of the Harbour Master.