If it had been implemented earlier, the changes could have significantly limited the damage caused by Prestige, the oil tanker that sunk off Spain last week.
The report by Ben Browne, which has been placed before the legal committee of the International Maritime Organisation, a sub-section of the UN, calls for a convention obliging governments to provide ports of refuge.
At present, ships in distress are blighted. Many governments refuse shelter to them, as this leaves the governments responsible for clearing the wrecks.
In the case of Prestige, the Spanish authorities refused to allow it into a safe place in or around Le Corunna and, instead, ordered for it to be towed 120 miles off the coast, despite the likelihood that it would break up.
Browne said: “If the ship broke up well offshore, any oil spilt would have spread further than if the vessel had been confined to a cove, which could be sealed with booms.”
Browne also calls for an international body that could recommend courses of action and identify and recommend safe havens. Currently, there are no international requirements on states to provide ports of refuge, so it is down to individual countries to establish rules.
He recommends that there should be a supervisory body that could override national governments. He also proposes that countries that do not cooperate with the convention could be liable for damages caused to third parties if they could have provided refuge but refused. He states that ships should be required to have compulsory insurance for pollution, wreck removal expenses, and possibly for damage caused by impact and explosions.
Browne also recommends a universal policing mechanism, which is already in place in certain states, to ban ships from convention states if they are not insured.