International Oil Spills

Oil spills account for a significant source of marine pollution around the world, and can severely impact marine ecosystems. Due to U.S. expertise in oil spill response, the U.S. Government is often asked to assist in responding to oil spill incidents that occur in other countries. Depending on the nature and location of the spill, the United States will try to offer the appropriate level of assistance, especially when that assistance can enhance our international relations and demonstrate our commitment to protecting the marine environment. In most cases, however, reimbursement for the costs of U.S. Government oil spill response assistance is expected.

The U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency have primary responsibility for containing and cleaning up oil spills that occur in waters of the United States, and are usually the agencies that provide international oil spill assistance. Various other USG agencies help with oil spill response domestically and internationally through the National Response Team (NRT) – a network of 16 federal agencies that provides guidance, assistance, and resources for managing pollution incidents.

When a formal request for oil spill assistance is received, the Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs coordinates with relevant U.S. Government agencies to determine whether assistance should be provided and what the assistance priorities are.

The Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs also manages U.S. involvement in various international agreements on oil spill prevention and response. The United States has oil spill response agreements with Mexico, Canada, Russia, Panama, and the British Virgin Islands. The United States also belongs to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation, and a Caribbean region oil spill cooperation agreement under the Cartagena Convention.

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