By Chris Richmond
Originally submitted to WorkBoat Magazine / October 2020
Most commercial hull policies have a pollution exclusion clause attached. You can often get a buy back endorsement added but the coverages on this vary from company to company and often the clause will not cover what you really need to. What you really need is a stand-alone pollution policy.
A pollution policy not only covers spills related to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 but also claims brought under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). Remember, pollution is not only petroleum spills; they can also be spills or discharge of other hazardous materials stored or transported on your vessel. You can have just as much problem with a chemical spill as an oil spill.
And don’t think that that barge you tow (the one without an engine or bunker fuel) is safe from pollution claims. What if you have a fuel storage container on deck that somehow ends up overboard? You now have a pollution claim. Should your tow come off and the barge has a collision or allusion − causing a fuel spill − you now have a pollution claim.
After the spill is contained and cleaned up, who is going to pay for your defense costs? As you are well aware, this is a part of liability policies and are key as potential litigation claims can drag on and defense costs mount. Whether or not you are found liable, your defense costs can add up quickly. Having these covered by your insurance policy is very important.
And what if your spill was a total accident? Will that stop any fines or penalties imposed upon you but state or federal authorities? Don’t count on it. A pollution policy can provide coverage for fines which may be imposed.
The only thing worse than the actual spill is the image on television or social media of oil-coated birds on the beach. Allowing the public to know that you are doing your best to take care of the situation can go a long way.
While you may never have to use your pollution policy, the coverage it provides for that one time will pay off in the long run. A stand-alone pollution policy is an important part of your vessel’s coverage and in some instances is required by the Coast Guard’s Certificate of Financial Reasonability (COFR) program. Have a talk with your insurance agent to find out more.