The development of law is not a smooth, linear process. Theories are developed and laws are drafted in response to particular events. Without a truly galvanizing incident, sheer inertia favors the status quo. Oil pollution law is a classic example of event-driven legislation. The loss of the early supertanker Torrey Canyon in 1967 led to the Intervention Convention, which clarified a nation-state's rights to defend itself from a vessel leaking oil. The rust-bucket Argo Merchant, lost on Nantucket Shoals in 1977, created the impetus to give the Coast Guard greater regulatory powers over tank vessels through the Port and Tanker Safety Act the following year. The loss of the enormous supertanker Amoco Cadiz in 1978, while the vessel's master and salvors were arguing over the terms of the salvage agreement, led to a restructuring of the internationally accepted Lloyd's Open Form Salvage Agreement. Finally, the dramatic loss of the Exxon Valdez in 1989 created the political environment that made the passage of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA), our nation's most encompassing oil spill liability legislation, a reality. Despite OPA's "great leap forward" in 1990, one segment of the oil transportation business remained largely unregulated: the tug and barge industry. It took the loss of the barge North Cape and its towboat Scandia to bring this under-regulation to public attention and to create the impetus for major changes in both state and federal law.
Dennis Nixon, Elise Golden & Louise Kane,
The Legacy Of The North Cape Spill: A New Legal Environment For The Tug And Barge Industry,
Ocean & Coastal L.J.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/oclj/vol4/iss2/2