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Thursday, 25 January, 2001, 13:04 GMT
Oil spills: A risk we have to live with?

Watch the BBC's Tim Hirsch answering your comments live from San Cristobal in the Galapagos. Today at 1700 GMT.

To watch live coverage of the forum, select a link below:

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The race is on to contain the oil spill in the Galapagos islands, one of the world's most beautiful and unspoilt nature reserves.

More than half a million gallons of oil leaked into the sea from a stricken tanker. The Ecuadorean government has declared a state of emergency in the region.

Conservationists have criticised the decision to allow the dangerous cargo to pass through such an ecologically sensitive area.

But with oil being shipped around the world in larger amounts each year, are the risks of a major spill increasing? Is this a risk we just have to live with? Is international regulation strong enough?

HAVE YOUR SAY Firstly, the costs for the cleaning up operation should be borne by the international community and not the hard-pressed Ecuadorian government. Secondly, it would be nice to see travel operators and those with a vested interested in tourism in the Galapagos make a significant contribution. Thirdly, the captain and the oil company should be held culpable and duly punished.
Alex B, UK

Reading some of the comments posted here almost makes me want to go join the Amish. It's interesting to see how quick we are to vilify those who extract, transport, and refine the very stuff that enables many of us to get to work and home again. In our so-called technologically advanced society, it seems silly that massive ships still crash into big rocks and spill their loads. Sorry, no quick fixes here.
Jim Stone, USA

A fine of a couple of million dollars is peanuts for these oil companies. International committees should impose strict criteria and regulations before these tankers are sent out to sea to ensure maximum safety - and prevention of oil spills.
Marc Baroci, Boston, USA

What about the things we cannot see

Zach, South Africa
Well, it seems as if we will not learn fundamental lessons from history. We are too absorbed by the comforts of a industrial/tech society to realise that we are most certainly obliterating our chances at having a future on this planet. Oil tankers sink the whole time and the effect is that we can actually see the damage on CNN. What about the things we cannot see: Overfishing, illegal fishing - vessels transporting other dangerous chemicals. Because we cannot see how we are truly destroying the sea, we only get upset about oil spills and only for as long as the beaches are dirty and until the seabirds are clean. Then we forget about it again. What is needed is an aggressive campaign to educate people about what is going on with our oceans. Shame on us for our ignorance!
Zach, South Africa

This is unacceptable! The tanker traffic growing more and more every day threatens our environment and lifestyles. Do we have to sacrifice the environment for the oil? Why isn't it possible to develop more sophisticated vessels? As a citizen of Istanbul where the Strait of Bosphorus is located, the Galapagos spill reminded me of our "unnoticed" spills in the Bosphorus. With a tanker traffic of several thousand oil carrying vessel per day, the strait is under constant threat. The eco-system of the Black Sea and Marmara Sea is also unique and deserves the international community's attention.
Vedat, Turkey, Istanbul

In my view oil spills have to be lived with - unfortunately! One of the major problems with oil tankers in the lack of regulation over the state of the tankers. Companies can register their vessel in any country they like (usually the cheapest) and then that country takes the brunt of the blame when the vessel fails. Double hulls are a must as they reduce significantly the risk of failure in the vessel. Crews need to be trained properly (and to speak the same language!)

I feel that it would be a very good idea if oil companies in ports had at least the equipment to start a clean-up operation as soon as the vessel flounders. This is because a lot of the oil spills seem to have been close to where they were delivering. We all hope for no more oil spills in the future, but we also have to be prepared for when they inevitably do happen.
Martin, UK

The industry is to all intents and purposes self-regulating

Mathias Disney, Birkbeck College, London, UK
The design of large tankers - the so-called VLCCs (Very Large Crude Carriers) (admittedly much larger than the one involved in the Galapagos - but the ones which carry the bulk of the world's oil), and the safety margins they are given are fundamentally unsafe and based on specious reasoning. In addition, the economic arguments for these behemoths is flawed and the industry is to all intents and purposes self-regulating. This is a recipe for disaster.
Mathias Disney, School of Geography, Birkbeck College, London, UK

Crippling fuel protests, record damage from floods induced by global warming and now this. All signs of our over-reliance on petrochemicals. When will we start taking our natural environment seriously and think not of profit and cost but of what we might be losing?
Joe Burton, UK

I wonder how many of these outraged voices were also shouting for cheap fuel last September?
Neil Gall, Scotland

There may have been little that could have been done to prevent this particular disaster, happening, but if such huge quantities of highly dangerous fuel cargoes continue to be shipped around the world accidents are bound to happen. Let's see some of our supposedly responsible governments invest in our future by supporting research into alternative, renewable, power sources so we don't need to carry so much crude oil around.
D. Coote, UK

The oil industry is one which will not go away. Our culture is energy-dependent. We must get it from somewhere. If we are concerned about the increasing amount of oil being transported around the world, or the increasing amount of emissions being produced and creating global warming, it's naive to simply moan about it. We have to move towards energy efficiency. It's only at consumer-level that we can make the difference. If we reduce demand it will reduce the income generated from our wastage. Companies will be forced to economise and be efficient. There are ways of making it better. But it has to start at the very bottom: with me and with you. Think about it.
Estelle Levin, tanker and oil analyst, UK

Firstly, it is appalling that a site of such environmental value has to rely on oil shipments to provide the energy for a small population. Secondly, this kind of thing happens so regularly that all the lessons have surely been learned by now. How often do we have to be reminded? If we have to transport oil across the oceans, then put it in double-skinned ships that do not leak their cargo as soon as they are driven on-shore.
David Littlefield, UK

The demand for cheap goods is driving them to cut costs?

Brian S, USA
What a shame! The condition of ships traversing the seas these days is reprehensible. But how can we place the blame on the operators, when the demand for cheap goods is driving them to cut costs? This is a situation to be dealt with swiftly to make the environmental impact as minimal as possible, but we must recognise that global society as a whole is responsible for the creating the markets these ocean vessels are bound to serve.
Brian S, USA

Devastating oil spills are only one element in humanity's appalling degradation of the biosphere, resulting from the absurd notion that we can endlessly sustain a high-mass consumption, growth-dominated economy for 6 to 10 billion people on a finite planet with a life-support system having obvious limits.
John M. Szicsak, Canada

In the long run, it would be better to switch to coal as a major energy source. No one ever saw a coal slick on the water when a collier struck a rock.
James Castro, USA

In the December issue of Nature magazine, it was reported that ecologists were under "attack" by angry fisherman, who made death threats, destroyed ecologists property and hindered research efforts. Why? Because like most fisherman, they think the ocean is bottomless and fish stock never suffer from overfishing. Well, now we have this ecological catastrophe! What a coincidence. I wonder if it was really an accident at all?
Jon Marcus, USA

If a nuclear plant did so much damage it would be shut down the next day. So, why do we let oil companies get away with this sort of thing?
DominiConnor, UK

Petrobras the main Brazilian oil company was fined twice last year, $13M dollars each time for oil spills in environmentally sensitive areas which they had to pay immediately. That kind of fine, in this case against the oil and shipping companies concerned, would go a long way to help the clean up operation.
Derek, ex-pat, Brazil

Ecuador's government needs to take action now to stop a repeat of this mess and to make certain that those determined to exploit the islands' ecosystem - such as the commercial fisheries - do not succeed.
Mel, UK

The onus should be on the shipowners, not the environment or the unlucky affected countries, to clean up the spills

Katrina Exter, UK
Why can't a bounty be introduced, that all ships carrying environmentally hazardous cargo (or indeed any with fuel on board) pay "before" they set sail, so that if there is a spill, that bounty is used to pay for the clean-up operation? There will never be a ship that will never sink. A non-refundable pre-paid bounty would make shipowners at least think more about the security of the cargo and also avoid the situation where even if they get prosecuted, getting the money out of them is harder than cleaning up the mess they leave behind. The onus should be on the shipowners, not the environment or the unlucky affected countries, to clean up the spills.
Katrina Exter, UK