No safe harbour for oil giants

Posted: 5th November 2012

In the context of a bitter landlord and tenant dispute, the operators of Britain’s largest oil terminal have failed in a High Court bid to wrest control of the nationally important facility from Associated British Ports (ABP). The management of the Immingham Oil Terminal has long been a bone of contention between ABP and the two oil giants who operate the nearby Lindsay and Humber oil refineries which together represent a quarter of the UK's oil refining capacity.

Industrial chimneyThrough their joint venture, Humber Oil Terminals Trustee Ltd (HOTT), Total UK Ltd. and ConocoPhillips UK Ltd. have operated the terminal for more than 40 years. However, commercial negotiations between HOTT and ABP have broken down and, since December 2009 when HOTT's leases and rights of way over the terminal site expired, it has only continued to occupy the site by ‘operation of law’ as the dispute has continued.

ABP is the statutory harbour authority for the Humber estuary and it is HOTT's case that it is ABP's intention to take over management and operation of the terminal, effectively making HOTT ‘a captive customer of ABP as a monopoly supplier of port facilities’. Those allegations are disputed by ABP.

HOTT applied to the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), an offshoot of the Department for Transport, for a Harbour Revision Order which would have resulted in geographical division of the port and the replacement of ABP by HOTT as the harbour authority responsible for the terminal and its landside infrastructure.

However, MMO refused HOTT’s application in December 2010 and that decision has now been upheld by High Court judge, Mr Justice King, who said that HOTT's application did not meet the objectives of the Harbours Act 1964 and that MMO's decision ‘cannot be faulted’.