As knowledge, policies and infrastructure related to marine oil spill prevention, preparedness and response have continued to evolve and are now considered to have reached a state of relative maturity; attention has more recently turned to developing systems to address spills of hazardous and noxious substances (HNS) in the marine environment.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), as the specialized agency of the United Nations with a global mandate for the protection of the marine environment from pollution caused by shipping, discharges its commitment to protecting the marine environment from pollution from oil and HNS at the global level along four different but interdependent paths: prevention, preparedness and response, and technical co-operation.

Two mutually supporting IMO instruments that together address the Prevention-Preparedness-Response (PPR) continuum for HNS are: The International Convention for the Prevention of pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocols of 1978 and 1997 relating thereto (MARPOL Convention), notably Annexes II (noxious liquid substances in bulk) and III (harmful substances carried by sea in packaged form), covering prevention, and the Protocol on Preparedness, Response and Co-operation to Pollution Incidents by Hazardous and Noxious Substances, 2000 (HNS Protocol), which addresses preparedness, response and cooperation to spills of HNS.

Together, these instruments provide a framework for countries to establish the necessary systems for tackling the complex issue of prevention, preparedness and response to HNS, with the goal of embedding the principles set out in these instruments into national legislation and policy that are fully implemented at both institutional and operational levels. At the same time, it is equally recognized that the topic of preparedness and response to HNS is still in its infancy and that any systems developed must borrow heavily from the established systems for oil pollution, in order to maximize the use of existing capacity in planning and preparing for HNS, at the same time acknowledging the unique issues presented by these substances.

The paper will examine these elements in greater detail and will discuss the requirements for developing systems for preparedness and response for oil and HNS, comparing areas of similarity, contrasting the differences and identifying the distinct considerations that are necessary for each.

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