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Decades-Old Oil Ships Pose Significant Safety and Environmental Risks

by Anna

In February of the previous year, the Trinity Spirit, a 46-year-old oil ship off the coast of Nigeria, experienced a catastrophic explosion, resulting in the loss of five lives and severe environmental damage. An investigation by the Associated Press (AP) reveals that the ship had been operating in a state of disrepair, with many safety systems and legal requirements having lapsed.

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The Trinity Spirit was part of a class of vessels known as floating production storage and offloading units (FPSOs), which extract and store oil offshore. These ships, unlike most vessels, remain stationary and can remain in the same oil field for years, operating largely outside the typical framework of port inspections and safety checks. Many FPSOs are converted from old oil tankers, which were built to last about 25 years. The Trinity Spirit’s explosion is part of a pattern of aging oil ships experiencing accidents and fires.

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The average age of FPSOs has increased significantly in recent years, with the fleet average age reaching almost 28 years in 2021. The AP’s investigation highlights multiple issues with old oil ships, including deferred maintenance, financial problems of the operators, and the potential for catastrophic accidents.

The Trinity Spirit’s case underscores the absence of proper oversight, and the ship was allowed to continue operating despite various safety concerns and the revocation of its license. It was also revealed that several other ships worldwide are even older than the Trinity Spirit and continue to operate, raising concerns about potential environmental and safety risks.

Efforts are being made to address these issues, including the development of working groups to address the challenges of older FPSOs. However, the risks of maintaining and operating these aging vessels remain significant, as their components deteriorate over time. Environmental and safety authorities need to take necessary steps to ensure the safety and integrity of these vessels and prevent potential disasters in the future.

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