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Ship Oil Pollution Emergency Plan (SOPEP)

What is POPES?

When oil spill occurs at sea, it spreads over the surface of the sea water, leaving a deadly impact on marine mammals, birds, the shore line and most importantly the ocean and the environment.

The cost to clean up an oil spill depends on the quantity and quality of oil discharged in the sea and is calculated on the basis of factors such as legal claims, money paid as penalties, loss of oil, repairs and cleanups, and the most important – loss of marine life and the effects on human health which cannot be measured against any amount.

As prevention is better than cure, in order to avoid the above mentioned monitory losses and primarily to avoid marine pollution and losses of marine species, a prevention plan is carried on board by almost all cruise and cargo vessel. This plan is known as SOPEP or ship oil pollution emergency plan. The Ship Oil Pollution Emergency Plan, or SOPEP, is a prevention plan carried on board of almost all cruise and cargo vessels. In this plan you get an overview of possible procedures in case of an oil spill. In the plan is also mentioned who you should contact (list of authorities, oil clean up teams and port state control) and how to report this event to the nearest coast guard station.

Understanding SOPEP

As mentioned earlier, SOPEP stands for Ship oil pollution emergency plan and as per the MARPOL 73/78 requirement under Annex I, all ships with 400 GT and above must carry an oil prevention plan as per the norms and guidelines laid down by International Maritime Organization under MEPC (Marine Environmental Protection Committee) Act. The Gross tonnage requirement for oil tanker, according to SOPEP, reduces to 150 GT as oil itself is a kind of cargo which doubles the risk of oil pollution. Master of the ship is the overall in charge of the SOPEP of the ship, along with the chief officer as subordinate in charge for implementation of SOPEP on board. SOPEP also describes the plan for the master, officer and the crew of the ship to tackle various oil spill scenario that can occur on a ship. For oil tankers, action plan widens regarding the cargo handling and cargo tanks containing huge quantities of oil.

Purpose of the Plan

  • The Shipboard Oil Pollution Emergency Plan ("SOPEP") is to be seen as information from the owners to the Master of a particular ship.

  • It shall advise the Master how to react in case of an oil spill to prevent or at least mitigate negative effects on the environment.

  • The Plan contains operational aspects for various oil spill scenarios and lists communication information to be used in case of such incidents.

Legal Background

1.It is compulsory for all ships of more than 400 Gross Tons (Oil tankers of more than 150 GT) to carry a SOPEP onboard.

2.The required contents are described in MARPOL Convention Annex I Reg. 26. 3.Guidelines for the Development of a Shipboard Oil Pollution Emergency Plan" are published by IMO under MEPC. 54 (32) 1992 as amended by MEPC.86 (44) 2000. 4.The SOPEP forms an integral part of the IOPP certificate. Its existence is verified in the Supplement to the IOPP Certificate. 5.In any case the SOPEP has to be approved by the flag state administration of the flag the ship is presently flying or by a classification society on behalf of this flag.


  • The Plan consists generally of 4 Sections with the mandatory contents and its Appendices with additional information as contact addresses and data plus a set of certain drawings for easy reference for the Master.

  • The provided SOPEP sample plan has been prepared as a general guidance how to write such a plan in accordance with the new IMO Guidelines as amended in March 2000. It has to be seen as an example how the contents basically could be written in order to fulfill the requirements

  • The individual SOPEP should be prepared in line with the "Table of Content / Index of Sections" as per sample.

  • It has to be tailored carefully to the particular ship and company procedures and policies. Specific instructions should be incorporated according to ship type, purpose, and company requirements.

  • Especially for tankers actions in regard to the cargo tanks and cargo handling have to be included in the instructions.

  • The contents of the plan have to be fully in line with the instructions given by the company within the ISM Safety Management Manual.

Contents of SOPEP

SOPEP contains the following things:

  • The action plan contains duty of each crew member at the time of spill, including emergency muster and actions.

  • SOPEP contains the general information about the ship and the owner of the ship etc.

  • Steps and procedure to contain the discharge of oil into the sea using SOPEP equipment.

  • On board Reporting procedure and requirement in case of oil spill is described.

  • Authorities to contact and reporting requirements in case of oil spill are listed in SOPEP. Authorities like port state control, oil clean up team etc are to be notified.

  • SOPEP includes drawing of various fuel lines, along with other oil lines on board vessel with positioning of vents, save all trays etc.

  • General arrangement of ship is also listed in SOPEP, which includes location of all the oil tanks with capacity, content etc.

  • The location of the SOPEP locker and contents of the locker with a list of inventory.

Ship oil pollution plan contains:

  • An action plan with instructions for the oil pollution prevention team. This is a list of duties the crew members have to fulfill in case of an oil spill.

  • An emergency plan.

  • General information about the ship.

  • Procedures to discharge the oil into the sea in accordance to MARPOL regulations

  • Drawings of fuel/oil lines.

  • Location of SOPEP boxes.

The plan should be written in accordance to the International Maritime Organization regulations.

Additional entries

According MARPOL following appendices should be added to the SOPEP:

  • Coastal State Contacts (as annually published but quarterly updated in the Internet by IMO.

  • Blank form for listing of Port Contact Addresses to be kept up-to-date by the Master.

  • “Remarks to plan writers” can be found on various pages for guiding users where the sample text has to be tailored as a minimum.

  • Ship Interest Contact List (communication data incl. 24 hours contact phone no. to owners / managers, data abt. charterer, insurance, P&I Club, etc.).

Following drawings should be added to the SOPEP for easy reference for the ship's command in of an oil spill:

2.General Arrangement Plan

3.Tank Plan

4.Fuel Oil Piping Diagram

Those drawings form the minimum requirement by MARPOL. Further plans may be added if found appropriate.

Additional voluntary Entries

Additional Appendices can be entered as found necessary by the owners, i.e.:

  1. Training and drill procedures.

  2. Plan review procedures.

  3. Record keeping procedures.

  4. Public affairs policy.

All appendices do not belong to the mandatory part of the plan's contents but have to be kept updated by the owners as found necessary.

Approval responsibilities

  • The approval is a flag state obligation as a part of issuing the IOPP Certificate. If they have authorized the classification societies to issue this certificate, this authorization generally includes the approval of the SOPEP.

  • Certain Flag administrations offer direct approval services too.

  • In case of a transfer of class the approval by the previous classification society or another flag state authority will generally be accepted.

  • If a ship changes to a flag, the approval of the SOPEP for this flag has to be made by the flag state authority directly.

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