Challenges for marine oil transportation, with special focus on oil pollution incidents and consequences on the industry


1 Introduction

To have a better comprehension of the research, we will start with a brief introduction, which shall include the types of oil tankers traded & patterns of trading.

Oil tankers were primarily developed to facilitate ocean transportation of oil, where the pipeline capability was unavailable or cost of constructing the pipeline was uneconomical. This would typically mean taking oil across one of the oceans. Moreover, the oil transferred through oil tankers is rather large as compared to the volume transferred by pipeline; hence economies of scale come in.

Once an oil producer or oil buyer or oil trader, has entered into an agreement with shippers & receivers respectively, he then charters an oil tanker depending on the type & size of shipment.

There could be various assortments of commercial tanker agreements with an oil tanker owner, such as time charter or a spot charter, depending mainly on the circumstances of the oil trade. (Pagonis) Pg. 239
The type of oil tankers that the oil producer or oil trader or oil purchaser is to charters depends primarily if he intends to carry distillates or crude. Distillates generally is traded on smaller size of tankers, where as a crude is traded on typically very large crude oil carriers to smaller size vessels, depending on the trading restrictions.
While crude and product tankers are the two principal types of oil tankers, there are other subcategories in use as well. These subcategories for instance are chemical tankers, bunker tankers, specialized vegetable oil carries, etc. Large Range 1 and 2 (LR1 and LR2) have a DWT (dead weight) of between 45,000-79,999and 80,000-159,999 tons and fall under the classification of Oil tankers. Oil Tankers that have a carrying capacity of 160,000-319,999 tons are known as super tankers or Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCC). Ultra Large Crude Carriers (ULCC), are the largest oil tankers with a carrying capacity of 320,000 tons of oil and above.

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The process of loading & discharging a ship is quite complex. However, when the vessels are at sea navigating on a passage fully laden from the load port to discharge port, that is when accidents such as collision, grounding, etc result in major oil spills.

Oil carried on ships is used of variety of purposes such as providing energy for motor cars, fuel for power plants to generate electricity, aviation industry, marine fuel for containerships or bulk carriers or other vessels, cosmetic industry, etc. However, when there is an oil pollution incident then due to adverse press coverage & horrific images on media, there is only negative public sentiment created. The users of oil forget that marine oil transportation is vital link in the energy chain & energy provides power for growth. Government, authorities & administration to mitigate the public anger are not left with any option, but tighten the regulations & introduce extra safety features, which only add to cost of the end consumer. Safety structural innovations due to new regulations, has helped to enhance the safety standards of marine oil transportation in many ways.

This paper will research oil pollution incidents, the subsequent new rules that were introduced in wake of these accidents, major challenges the marine oil transportation industry faces in the present world environment. However, to comprehend the industry better, we will briefly review role of some regulatory bodies involved, along with some important background to context.

1.1 Explaining Oil Pollution

There are various technical definitions for oil pollution such as, “oil spill is oil, discharged accidentally or intentionally, that floats on the surface of water bodies as a discrete mass and is carried by the wind, current & tides”. They have destructive effects on costal ecosystem. (OECD)

Where as the USCG (United States Coast Guard) defines oil pollution, as spill of oil in to sea, where oil is defined as kind or in any form, including sludge, petroleum, oil refuse, fuel oil, and oil mixed with wastes which exclude dredged oil.

As per Annex 1 of Marpol (Marine Oil Pollution Convention), oil pollution is defined any accidental or intentional discharge of oil into sea, which creates a visible oil sheen.

In simple words, oil spill is leaking of persistent or crude oil into sea, which may continue to float & be visible for long duration. The reason it floats on the surface of water is due to oil has a lighter density compared to that of sea water (1.025)  

1.2 International Maritime Organization IMO

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The shipping industry has an and it recognizes the need to improve the safety in maritime operations, it had to be a body operating at international level rather then leaving to individual countries.

Therefore in 1948, a conference of the United Nations, adopted an agreement thereby creating the International Maritime Organization (IMO) which was the first international body dedicated solely to maritime matters. The IMO is the only agency in the UN, which has the distinction of being based in the United Kingdom with a total of 169 Member States and 3 Associate Members. The Assembly, which governs the IMO, meets every two years. In the interim, a 40 member Governments, elected by the Assembly, form the council, and govern the IMO. The overall objectives are summed up in the IMO slogan: “safe, secure and efficient shipping on clean oceans”.

IMO's work is carried out by a number of committees and sub committees since it is a technical organization. (International Maritime Organization, 2011)

1.3 Classification Society IACS

The purpose of a Classification Society is to provide classification and statutory services and assistance to the maritime industry and regulatory bodies as regards maritime safety and pollution prevention, based on the accumulation of maritime knowledge and technology.

Ship classification primarily aims at verifying the structural durability and integrity of the fundamental components of the ship's hull and its supplements. It also aims at attesting the dependability and functioning of the other essential features and auxiliary systems, in addition to verifying power generation and the steering and propulsion systems that chiefly maintain necessary services on board.

Classification Societies aim to achieve this objective through the development and application of their own Rules and by verifying compliance with statutory regulations be it national or international on behalf of flag Administrations.

IACS was created in 1930 as a result of the recommendations of the International Load Line Convention. The Convention endorsed cooperation between Classification Societies to assure "as much uniformity as possible in the application of the standards of strength upon which freeboard is based...".

While the IACS is a non-governmental association, it is the only one which can review and offer recommendation and develops guidelines for the IMO. Therefore it is still the only non-governmental body with witness status, able to develop and apply rules.

The criteria for membership of IACS are given in the IACS Charter, which can be found

on the IACS website at IACS explained.

(IACS International Association of Classification Societies) . IACS International Association of Classification Societies. (n.d.). IACS International Association of Classification Societies. Retrieved May 22, 2011 from IACS International Association of Classification Societies:

1.4 Oil Companies International Marine Forum OCIMF

On 8th April 1970, in the wake of the  "Torrey Canyon" incident, a meeting was held in London, to increase public understanding of marine pollution, specifically focussing on oil, and the result was the birth of the Oil companies international marine forum. OCIMF currently includes 83 companies through out the world.Though 1977 saw the assimilation of the OCIMF in Bermuda, for the sake of convenience of mainatining contact with the IMO and other operations, an office was established in London.

While the Torrey Canyon incident's aftermath saw the govenments developing both National Legislations and International Conventions, this was the attempt by the oil industry to provide its assistance by making available its professional know-how to the governmental and also the inter-governmental bodies. (OCIMF, 2010)

1.5 The International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds

Three intergovernmental organisations, namely the Supplementary Fund, the 1971 Fund and the 1992 Fund are the components of The International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds (IOPC Funds). These arrange for reimbursement for oil pollution damage from tankers, which are caused by spills of persistent oil. (IOPC, 2011)

1.6 Baltic Exchange

Baltic Exchange consists 2000 individuals members in additio to nearly 600 companies. It provides impartial valuations on the shipping market using a panel of international shipbrokers who postulate daily estimations for about 50dry and wet routes. In addition it also offers a weekly sale & purchase and flattening calculation alongside supplying daily forward prices. (Baltic Exchange Information Services Ltd., 2011)

1.7 International Energy Agency IEA

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The International Energy Agency (IEA) is a self-governing body operating to ensure dependable, consistent, affordable and clean energy. It consists of 28 member countries.
It was founded in 1973/4 as a result of the oil crisis. While the preliminary role of the IEA was to assist countries in coordinating a joint retort to oil supply disruptions by releasing emergency oil stocks, to the markets, it has since grown, evolved and expanded. It provides reliable and impartial research, analysis, statistics and endorsements. (OECD/IEA, 2011)

2 Challenges for Marine Oil Transportation

In this section, we will review some famous oil pollution incidents & evaluate on the damages caused. We will also evaluate on the other challenges, which are being faced in the present day by the industry.

2.1 Oil Pollution Incidents

As described earlier in section 1.1, oil pollution is said to have occurred when there is accidental or intentional discharge of oil at sea. The extent of the damage, is assessed by the quantity discharged at sea.

Refer Appendix 1 & 2

2.1.1 Atlantic Express 1979

This spill is said to be biggest oil spill in history of marine oil transportation. The quantity spilled was about 287000 Mts.

On 19 July 1979 the ATLANTIC EMPRESS and AEGEAN CAPTAIN, collided off Tobago, because of bad weather conditions during a tropical rainstorm. Both the vessels were VLCCs (very large crude carriers), loaded to full capacity. There were many fatalities on board the vessels, since the Vessels began leaking immediately upon impact and ignited. While fire on board the AEGEAN CAPTAIN was contained, thereby allowing it to be ultimately towed to Curacao to discharge its remaining cargo, the ATLANTIC EMPRESS was not so fortunate. On 21st and 22nd July she was towed further out to sea, and stayed put about 300 nautical miles offshore for a week. A massive explosion, which caused acute damage, took her down causing her to list and finally go under on 2nd August. While this was the largest ship source spill ever recorded, at about 287,000 tons of oil no impact studies followed since the accident was a result of poor weather conditions.

Since most of the oil burned, minor pollution was reported on the nearby shores. However, it took a severe fire-fighting endeavor, and oil was treated using dispersants. (Hooke, 1997)

2.1.2 ABT Summer 1991

On 28th May 1991, the tanker ABT SUMMER was en route from Iran to Rotterdam. It had set out with a cargo of heavy Iranian crude oil, amounting to 260,000 tons from Kharg Island's Gulf terminal, with a crew of 32. Approximately, 900 miles off the coast of Angola, there was an explosion killing 5 crewmembers, giving out a large oil slick that covered 80 square miles and burnt for 3 days, before sinking on the 1st of June in a manner that the wreckage was never located. The silver lining is that since it was so far off coast there was not much environmental damage. There are however no figures or estimates on how much oil burned or sank. (Hooke, 1997)

2.1.3 Castillo De Bellver 1983

On 6 August 1983, CASTILLO DE BELLVER, which was nearby 70 miles north west of Cape Town, caught fire, drifted and broke into 2. Her cargo consisted of 252,000 tons of light crude oil that was Upper Zakum and Murban. While the stern carrying roughly 100,000 tons of oil sank 24 miles off cost in the deep., the Bow had to be towed and sunk through the use of controlled explosions. Unlike ABT SUMMER, there is an estimate of 50-60,000 tons that sunk or burnt away. Providence in the form of a wind shift caused the oil to move offshore, and enter the Benguela Current thereby requiring very little dispersant. Seals and other wild life were safe considering that it was the beginning of the breeding season and that there was oiling of about 1,500 gannets, from an island near the coast. The impact on wild life both in and out of water was negligible. (Moldan, 1985) (Wardley-Smith, 1983)

2.1.4 Amoco Cadiz 1978

On 16 March 1978, AMOCO CADIZ the tanker was struck because of low depth. The incident took place off the coast of Brittany, as a result of a steering gear failure. Thereon, started the nightmarish two-week period during which she spewed approximately 4,000 tons of bunker fuel and its entire cargo, which was about 223,000 tons. The cargo was composed of Arabian crude oil mixed with light Iranian. The combination of the discharge proved far times more deadly than it should have been, since the strength of the pollutant was up by five times.  By April end 320 Km of coastline, as far as the Channel Islands, had been contaminated by the pollution, which was a viscous water-in-oil emulsion, making it the largest killer of Marine Life recorded till that time. (NOAA, 1978) (Spooner, 1978) (Bellier & Massart, 1979) (sedo) (Conan, d'Ozouville, & Marchand, 1978 June 7)

2.2 Increasing Price of Oil

As per research accumulated & diagrammatically represented thru Appendix 5,8,9,10 & 11, it is apparent that although the oil demand has not exceeded pre financial crisis's era, however the price of the oil has risen quite rapidly.

Such rapid increase in price as explained by International energy agency is due to factors such as to the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on 11 March, 2011, the geo political tensions evolving from Egypt & spreading to other parts in middle east, the war in Libya which produces about 1% of global oil supply, healthier financial data from western economies, expected tightening measures by OPEC, etc.

Some may perceive increasing oil prices, to be a benefit to marine oil transportation. The repercussions to the industry will be evaluated in section 3.

2.3 Piracy

According to Article 101 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS): “Piracy consists of any of the following acts:

  1. any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed-
    1. on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
    2. against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;
  2. any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;
  3. any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b)”  / United nations conventions on the law of the sea / Article 101 /

A quick recap on piracy incidents worldwide, as recorded by International Chamber of Commerce.

  • In 2011, the industry has had to deal with 173 attacks. Of these 117 took place off the coast of Somalia.
  • There have been a total of 23 hijackings in 2011. 20 of these took place off the coast of Somalia, taking the number of hostages at Somalia alone to 338 souls, and the umber of deaths to 7.
  • At the time of writing this paper, Somali pirates hold 26 vessels with a total of 518 hostages. (ICC Commercial Crime Services (CCS))

2.4 Oversupply of Tonnage & Financial Crises

Please refer Appendix 14 to 19, to appreciate the oversupply of oil tankers due to excessive new building orders placed, during the shipping boom of the 2007-2008 & subsequent effect on tanker freight curve.

Global trade was booming during these years, which was fuelled by the phenomenal growth-taking place in several rapidly industrializing countries, most notably China & India.

Gaining full benefit from this growth momentum, ship owners, bank & investors indiscriminately placed orders for new buildings. Credit or loans were relatively easy to come by and spending it was firmly the trend, without analyzing or doing any research. By and large, oil tanker shipping was enjoying some of its most profitable results of modern times, if not of all time.

As we enter the 2nd decade of the 21st century, we realize what has been done in the past. We will enlighten on consequences in section 3.

3 Objectives

In this section, we will analyse the results of the research pertaining to issues highlighted & discussed in section 2.

3.1 Implications of Oil Pollution

Consequences of oil spill may be divided into 2 sections for better comprehension.

3.1.1 Immediate Consequences

Oil spill have serious impacts on marine life & natural coastline. However, this again depends on the nature & quantity of oil spilled. The most critical environmental aspect of an oil spill is its toxic effect on plankton. Plankton is foundation for ocean ecological system. Seabirds are most vulnerable, as they are inhabitants of open waters.

Obtaining cost data or estimating such data is rather difficult. Understandably, most of the cleanup cost or settlement cost is kept confidential.

The size of tanker does not bear any linear relationship to the spill cost.

EXXON VALDEZ incident, which took place in Alaska in 1989, holds the infamous distinction of being the most damaging oil spill in history with a price tag of US$ 2.5 billion for cleanup alone.

Add to it the cost of claims, which have yet to be settled, penalties and fines and the cost for the time preceding the court settlement can be estimated at US$ 7 billion. The AMOCO CADIZ, which took place off the coast of France in 1978, had more than half of its cost going towards cost more in legal fee and the interest that was worked up, with the total amounting to US $282 million. The BRAER incident off the UK coast in 1993 was estimated at about US$ 83 million. While the cleanup for it, is said to be cheaper in comparison to the others, since the water dispersed the oil, the true cost of the spills exorbitant though they are, may never be known because one cannot put a price tag on the marine life. After all, what is the value in cash for the value of life, especially as more species are entering the endangered list daily? Despite that the BRAER resulted in about US$ 61 million being giving out towards the cost of salmon fishing. SEA EMPRESS (UK, 1996) cost a total of US$ 60 million going towards the cleanup and damage settlements. NAKHODKA (Japan, 1997) cost about US$ 219 million. ERIKA (France,

1999), is still in a process of settling claims which have yet to be calculated though in October 2010, the sum of 129.7 Euros was made for 5939 cases. (UNCTAD United Nations Conference on Trade and Deployment, 2002) (Etkin, 1998) (Grey, 1999) (IOPC Fund, 2009)

3.1.2 Long term consequences

Ironically, Exxon Valdez has not been only the most expensive oil spill, but has had the most remarkable affect on the tanker industry in terms of structure & safety standards. In year 1990, which is following year after the incident United States federal government introduced legislation, stating that any tankers calling United States or built after certain date, have to double skin hull standards.  This is popularly called as the oil pollution act of 1990.

Following this IMO also passed legislation through MARPOL 1992 Amendments, introducing double hull requirements for oil tankers. Typically, this has resulted in a significant increase in shipbuilding costs by approximately 20-40%. (Fundació IMOR)  (United States Environmental Protective Agency) (UNCTAD United Nations Conference on Trade and Deployment, 2002)

3.2 Dynamics of Oil Tanker Trade

The sudden price increase of oil, which has been highlighted in section 2 to various factors, has affected shipping industry quite adversely. The main operating cost as concluded after reviewing appendix 19 is the bunker costs. The price of fuel for ships has increased by about 300%, since year 2008. Where as the tanker freight rates as seen on Appendix 18, have remaining constant. Hence, this has further affected profit

3.3 Piracy & Hijacking

Please refer appendix 13 & 14, to appreciate the mapping of attacks & various statistics.

On 2 June 2008, the United Nations Security Council implemented a resolution sanctioning a series of pivotal measures to counteract armed robbery and acts of piracy carried against vessels operating off the coast of Somalia. The Resolution 1816 (2008) which emerged was adopted unanimously. By the dictate of the Security Council, the Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) sent a letter to the President of the UN Security Council, and authorized the co-operation of the TFG with the States involved in the security of maritime activities for a period of six months. During this time the States would have the support of the TFG since they could enter the Somali territorial waters to use, "all necessary means" (International Maritime Organization, 2011) in order to quash and contain armed raids at sea, and acts of piracy in a method which was in accordance with the pertinent stipulations of international law. On 7 October 2008 Resolution 1838 (2008), was implemented by the Security Council, which called on all concerned States to deploy military aircraft and naval vessels so as to eradicate piracy off the coast of Somalia. The council realized as had been enumerated in its earlier resolution 1816. 9, that per year a cost between 7-12 billion dollars was added on to the industry as a result of piracy. (International Maritime Organization, 2011)

3.4 Direction for Oil Tanker Industry

The shipping industry is experiencing the consequences of the slowdown in world trade and the abridged demand for shipping services. Shipping has already been bitten and markets, which saw VLCC rates drop from World scale W170 to W81. Shipping market is attracting very few equity investors, as better returns are being generated by other investments.

This may be a blessing in disguise for the industry & will help shape the supply curve in favor of assets, however the process will be slow.

After reviewing the ever growing fleet list, economic slowdown, rise in commodity prices such as base metals significantly impacting the ship building costs, the short term economic outlook does not seem to be very favourable for the tanker industry in short term. After phasing out of single hull tankers, there may be some balance in the demand & supply curve, hence pushing the freight rates north.

4 Literature Review

Various conventions related to shipping such as SOLAS, MARPOL, CLC, etc as regulated by IMO have been researched for this paper. OCIMF publications such as ISGOTT, Deep water VLCC guidance, etc have been scrutinized for the purpose of this paper. Most of the research data has been collected by reviewing websites for International Maritime Organization (IMO), United States Coast Guard (USCG), International Tankers Owners Pollution Fund, International Tanker Owners, Oil Companies International Marine Forum, Lloyds intelligence lists, Q88, Baltic exchange, Clarksons, etc. Under references a more detailed & accurate list presented.

5 Research Methods

Following research methods deployed for the purpose of compiling this paper

5.1 Research Methods

Reviewing of various conventions, regulations & statutory publications.

IMO Conventions

IMO's conventions are regularly improved and reviewed while new instruments/protocols are assumed and implemented. For dates of entry into force of amendments/instruments already adopted - see Status of Conventions -


Maritime safety

  • International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), 1974
  • International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR), 1979
  • Special Trade Passenger Ships Agreement (STP), 1971
  • International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch keeping for

Seafarers (STCW), 1978

  • Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREG), 1979
  • International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch keeping for Fishing
  • Vessel Personnel (STCW-F), 1995
  • International Convention for Safe Containers (CSC), 1972
  • Convention on the International Maritime Satellite Organization (INMARSAT), 1976
  • Protocol on Space Requirements for Special Trade Passenger Ships, 1973
  • The Torremolinos International Convention for the Safety of Fishing Vessels (SFV), 1977
  • International Convention on Load Lines (LL), 1966

Marine pollution

  • International Convention Relating to Intervention on the High Seas in Cases of Oil Pollution
  • Protocol on Preparedness, Response and Co-operation to pollution Incidents by Hazardous and Noxious Substances, 2000 (HNS Protocol)
  • International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 relating thereto (MARPOL 73/78)
  • Casualties (INTERVENTION), 1969
  • Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (LDC), 1972
  • International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation (OPRC),1990
  • International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems on Ships (AFS), 2001
  • International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and

Sediments, 2004

  • The Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, 2009

Liability and compensation

  • International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage (CLC), 1969
  • International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for

Oil Pollution Damage (FUND), 1971

  • Convention relating to Civil Liability in the Field of Maritime Carriage of Nuclear Material

(NUCLEAR), 1971

  • Athens Convention relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea (PAL),


  • Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims (LLMC), 1976
  • International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage, 2001
  • International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the

Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea (HNS), 1996

Other subjects

  • Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic (FAL), 1965
  • International Convention on Tonnage Measurement of Ships (TONNAGE), 1969
  • Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation

(SUA), 1988 and 2005 Protocol

  • Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on

the Continental Shelf, 1988 and 2005 Protocol

  • International Convention on Salvage (SALVAGE), 1989
  • International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks, 2007

5.2 Contribution from Marine Experts

Capt Rakesh Dhir, from Conono Phillips

Capt H. Giri, from Exxon Mobile

Capt John Hill, member on Intertanko committee

Capt Shamider Rahil, from BP

6 Conclusion

In this section, we will conclude the summary of the research

6.1 Summary

1. Is oil pollution a real challenge to the industry, is it?

Basis the research & on review of Appendix 1-4, it has been highlighted that the oil pollution incidents are decreasing drastically. Infact from the start of the 21st century, the biggest incident so far has been the prestige incident with an oil spill size. This clearly, highlights that the safety standards have been remarkably improved & the stastical data review, is a clear indicator of this conclusion. It can further be concluded that the international regulatory bodies, are doing enough to address the safety & enviormental concers. Infact, now more forces & resources, should be used by the adminstrtion in other fields such as fuel saving for ships, alternative sources of energy for ships, etc.

2. What do you see the real challenge?

Research indicates that piracy, is the real concern. Looking at KPI's as highlighted per appendix 13-14, the govements have not done enough to curb this act of crime. Our research shows that the most expensicve oil spill in history which may have costed the oil industry about 2 to 7 billion dollars, on one time basis. However, piracy is already costing the industry 7-12 billion dollars annully & increasing. Although, united nations has passed a resolution to curb this act of crimes,  however results are yet to be achieved.

3. Has the tanker freight market fully recovered from financial depression of 2008?

From the assessments of tanker freight levels, it is proved that the tanker freight market is yet to recover. However, we will also concluded from our research that the real reason for decreased profits for this industry are not due to poor freight levels, but due to freight levels not having any regard for high fuel or bunker costs for the vessel, along with increased prices of base metals which has increased that asset price & not providing competitive returns to financial benchmarks.

6.2 Evaluation

The research could have been more detailed in certain aspects, however lot of technical issues would have interfered with the process of research.