Skip to main content

New method for cleaning up oil spills nets top award

Home  /  About AMC  /  News & Events  /  New method for cleaning up oil spills nets top award

Inspired to innovate by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the Montara oil spill in the Timor Sea, Captain Brett Whiteoak’s work to mitigate future spills has netted him the AMC Peter Morris medal.

The medal is awarded to an alumnus who has made a significant contribution to the enhancement of the maritime industry in the area of safety, environmental responsibility, or the development of international merchant shipping operations and standards.

BP Australasian Shipping manager Captain Whiteoak was recognised for his sensitive awareness of safety issues in the marine environment; the implementation of measures to ensure the protection of personnel, vessels and the environment; and the development of a method to skim and contain off-shore oil spills.

The new method – using oil tankers that can remain in situ for as long as necessary to collect and treat spilt oil, rather than filling, transporting and emptying 1 cubic metre iso-tainers or inflatable bladders many times over – is due for trial in Western Australia in September.

“It’s still a theory at this stage, but all the elements of the proposal have been tested separately,” Captain Whiteoak said.

His methodology has been presented to his BP Shipping and Oil Response colleagues in London, as well as the Australian Marine Oil Spill Centre (AMOSC) Board, of which he is chair.

Captain Whiteoak was the only Australian deployed to the Macondo Well blowout in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. As a Simultaneous Operations Director on 12-hour shifts, he was responsible for all vessel operations above the Macondo wellhead.

These vessels, involved in the complex operation to cap the wellhead and contain the oil, constituted the largest concentration of vessels in history – 19 large vessels within a 500 metre radius around the wellhead.

“It certainly was an extremely tough time to be with BP. However, it was really good to be there; you knew you were doing something useful,” Captain Whiteoak said.

Nobody had experienced an oil spill from a wellhead so deep before. We had to deal with it urgently and safely while the whole world was watching.

Captain Whiteoak trained at AMC in the early 1980s and spent 20 years on Australian and international oil tankers. He became a Master on both crude and product tankers, including Australia's largest oil tanker, the Mobil Flinders, before working ashore. 

Captain Whiteoak joined BP Shipping in London in 1998. He was seconded to Silver Fern Shipping Ltd in New Zealand as Marine Superintendent, followed by two years in BP Shipping's London office. He later became Australasian Shipping Manager, a role he resumed in 2015 after a four-year secondment in Japan with the North West Shelf project.

Captain Whiteoak is also a former member of the AMC and AMC Search Boards (2008-2011).

Published on: 10 Apr 2018