Deepwater Horizon: an international perspective

05/28/10 Kate Bradshaw
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When disaster happens overseas, stricken nations often look to the U.S. to aid in their recovery. One month into its own crisis, the U.S. is starting to get help from other countries in the form of supplies.

Today, WMNF spoke with Mark Toner, a spokesperson for the State Department, the agency that’s facilitating international aid, about what the Deepwater Horizon disaster means within an international context. He said Deepwater Horizon isn’t the first time other nations have lent the U.S. a hand.

Normally, we do play sort of a natural facilitating role for international offers of assistance when there is a natural disaster here in the U.S., and just like the U.S. so often responds to disasters when they strike overseas. And you know, of course, the American people are known for their generosity and largesse, most frequently — most recently, rather, the Haiti earthquake. But numerous examples of that. Similarly, you know, our partners and around the world, when they see something happening to the United States, offer assistance. And I guess the most recent example of that would have been Hurricane Katrina. … I was actually in Brussels at the time, at NATO headquarters, and I know that NATO offered to airlift the supplies to the folks who were in Houston and other areas who had lost their homes and (were) in temporary shelters.

Q. So, I think the perception among the general public is that the U.S. helps other countries — I mean, Haiti being one of the most striking and more recent. What countries are helping us respond to this disaster, and in what ways are they doing so?

Sure; well, to date we've received offers of assistance from seventeen countries. And also, the European Union; they have an office called the European Maritime Safety Agency, and they're playing kind of a coordinating role for European Union offers of assistance — for offers of assistance among members of the European Union. But seventeen offers of assistance so far from other countries. And these range — as you can imagine, these range from sort of practical offers to dispersants to specialized booms and skimmers that can help in the cleanup. You know, to date we've offered — I mean, we've accepted boom(s) and skimmers from Mexico and Norway. But we're continually evaluating other offers as well.

Q. Does it complicate things to have all of these different entities interacting — you know, State Department, BP, Coast Guard?

Well, it's always — something on this scale, frankly, it's always a huge interagency, if you will, process, coordination process. And I know I worked closely on the Haiti earthquake as well, and that was also just massive. But you know what? We actually manage to coordinate pretty well in these kinds of — and have developed a close working relationship with other agencies within the government, and, you know, we have constant conference calls, and ongoing meetings to try to coordinate and make sure we're all knitted up.

Q. So does the State Department have any other role in the disaster response, as in dealing with other countries should the oil hit international waters?


Q. How does the State Department figure in that?

Well, there's something called the Cartagena Convention Oil Spills Protocol. And we're a signatory to that, as are other countries in the region, including Mexico and Cuba. And so, because of that, and because we're signatories, we're obliged to notify and inform those governments on the scope of the oil spill and where it might be headed.

Q. So in the view of the State Department, does the Deepwater Horizon disaster have any bearing within the context of national security?

National security, you know, as defined in our world today — and actually, it's interesting you raise that, because the Obama administration just presented its national security strategy yesterday, rolled it out, if you will. But, you know, yes. All of these things — environmental degradation or damage; financial markets and their impact, and financial crises; all of these affect our national security. So, absolutely; there's an aspect of that. You know, right now, BP is struggling to cap the well. Everybody recognizes that it's a huge challenge, and that even if that happens, we've got a massive cleanup effort that's going to have to ensue. And like I say, we're very fortunate that we have had offers of assistance from our international partners, who recognize the scope of this disaster and are willing to help.

Q. All right. Say this oil does hit international waters, or for that matter, washes up on the shores of another nation. What kind of legal implications might that have?

Sure; well, right now, it is not. And so at least, NOAA, the organization that's sort of tracking this spill, that it has not reached international waters. But certainly, you know, as I said, there is this Cartagena Convention. And part of that is, you know, we are informing and keeping informed the governments of countries that might be affected by the spill, so that they can take any necessary precautions. I'm not certain that there would be — it's actually a valid question, as to whether there would be any legal implications wherever, say, Mexico or Cuba had filed claims against BP or not, I'm just not aware of it. There may well be. But I think that it would be just like in the United States: it would be British Petroleum that would be on the hook.

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