The Torrey Canyon (1967) and Santa Barbara (1969) occurrences dramatized the unique nature of offshore oil pollution risks and the lack of a definitive legal system for dealing effectively with prevention, cleanup, and compensation.
Although it is not the major part of the far more serious problem of marine pollution and is caused mainly by land-sourced activity, offshore oil pollution constitutes an increasingly important hazard because of the expanded, accelerating offshore search for alternate petroleum sources and unparalleled technological innovation.
As offshore petroleum activity is essentially a transplant of land-based activity to a marine environment, the law of the sea and certain traditional legal principles are in an evolutionary process of adaptation to new factual situations. Considerable progress has occurred during the last two decades, but law and enforcement at international and regional levels are still not effective, while national regimes in the context of increasing nationalization of the sea by coastal states are in danger of becoming chaotically inconsistent. Two approaches hold realistic promise: first, industry's voluntary programs, which are impressive in scope and efficiency; secondly, joint government/industry consultation, cooperation, and action, which accentuates the strengths and minimizes the weaknesses of the only two parties capable of protecting and advancing the public interest and encourages more effective law and enforcement.