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Contingency planning

A key issue in dealing with marine pollution incidents is preparedness. Given the volumes of oil and other pollutants shipped around the UK and the turbulent, often unpredictable nature of our waters, marine pollution incidents are an unfortunate inevitability.

The UK has extremely well developed contingency planning arrangements to ensure that if pollution does occur, its impacts can be limited in the most effective way. The following contingency plans are regularly reviewed and updated with input from us.

The National Contingency Plan

Produced by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, this plan outlines the roles and responsibilities of all key players in a marine pollution incident. This plan is reviewed every five years.

MMO Marine Pollution Contingency Plan

We hold the MMO Marine Pollution Contingency Plan, which outlines the procedures we carry out in case of a marine pollution incident. This plan is under constant review to ensure the best possible response.

Standing environment group contingency plans

There are 14 standing environment groups (SEGs) around the coasts of England and Wales. In addition, Northern Ireland and Scotland each have their own SEG.

Port/Harbour authority contingency plans

Under the Merchant Shipping (Oil Pollution Preparedness Response and Co-operation, OPRC) Regulations 1998, ports and harbours in England and Wales are required to have contingency plans ready to be implemented in the event of a marine pollution incident emergency. These plans are reviewed by the Marine Pollution Response Team and relevant local offices within the MMO.

Standing approvals

Ports and harbours may also obtain standing approvals to use oil spill treatment products in specific circumstances without needing to apply for permission from us. Such standing approvals are considered by our Marine Pollution Response Team and local MMO offices, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquatic Science (Cefas) and Natural England.

Standing approvals are issued with strict conditions, usually including type and maximum amount of product to be used, and specific tidal conditions during which use can take place (usually on an ebb, or out-flowing, tide). Standing approvals are available to view as a list, or as an interactive map.

Offshore installation plans

A proportion of oil pollution emergency plans (OPEPs) for offshore installations (oil and gas rigs and offshore wind farms) in English and Welsh waters are seen by us for input into the review process, led by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

MMO has produced guidance on treatment of lighter oils for offshore installation operators as Annex 4 to the DECC guidance note on Petroleum Operations Notice No 1.

Marine Scotland inputs into the DECC review process for installations in Scottish waters.

Help with documents

Some of these documents are in the portable document format (PDF) for downloading. Adobe Acrobat Reader can be freely downloaded from