UK port fined over Sea Empress oil spill

Record pollution fine imposed for responsibility in 72,000 tonne spillage in 1996

The largest ever financial penalty in a UK pollution trial was awarded today against the port authority found guilty of causing the 1996 Sea Empress oil spill. Milford Haven port was ordered to pay UK£4m (euros 5.7m) for its role in the UK's third worst oil spill ever. The authority was judged to have provided a pilot with insufficient experience to guide the Sea Empress oil tanker past into the harbour on the south-west coast of Wales. Over 70,000 tonnes of oil leaked from the vessel when it became stranded on rocks, affecting 200km of coastline. The total cost of the incident, including clean-up operations, the impact assessment and losses to fishing and tourism, has been estimated at up to UK£100m (ENDS Daily 13 February 1998). According to the judge presiding over the case, the fine would have been larger had a wealthier organisation, such as a major oil company, been found primarily responsible for causing the spill. The head of the Environment Agency of England and Wales, Ed Gallagher described the case as "an important landmark in environmental protection". The scale of the fine would cause "those businessmen who cynically calculate that a bit of environmental damage and the usual low fine are a cheaper...alternative to operating their factories and equipment properly, to think again," he said.

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