Effects of Sea Empress oil spill assessed

Only luck prevented much worse environmental damage, advisory group says

Only luck prevented there being greater environmental damage caused by oil spilled from the Sea Empress tanker, concludes a report published this Wednesday by the Sea Empress Environmental Evaluation Committee (SEEEC). The report says that the 72,000 tonnes of crude oil spilt in February 1996 as the Sea Empress came into Milford Harbour in Wales could have had a far higher impact if the incident had happened in spring and if the wind had been blowing onshore.

The total cost, including the clean-up operation, the impact assessment and the loss to tourism and fishing has been placed between £50m and £100m. The Sea Empress oil spill was the third biggest in UK history, and affected an estimated 200km of coastline, including some areas classified as of special scientific interest.

The SEEEC report makes a number of recommendations, including improved facilities for the disposal of oily wastes and the establishment of a national contingency plan to deal with the environmental impact assessment of oil spills. This would include setting up a core group to deal with the assessment, as well as baseline date on specific areas and species. An official from the SEEEC told ENDS Daily that this responsibility was likely to go to the Environmental Protection Agency, but that this was a government decision.

The report's conclusion that: "We were lucky - it could have been much worse," has been criticised by environmental groups. They are angry that certain key recommendations made by the evaluation committee following the 1993 Braer tanker oil spill off the Shetland Islands have not been implemented by the government. In particular, they are pushing for legislation to create marine areas of special environmental interest which would be protected from oil tanker shipping routes. Some groups have also voiced concern about the use of dispersants to clean up the spills, which they claim may have a negative environmental impact themselves.

Follow Up:
SEEEC, tel: +44 1222 770 088.

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