Mobilising the Community Task Force
The Civil Protection Unit of the European Community was informed by the British Authorities during the evening of the 15th. Commission officials made immediate contact with the MPCU (Marine Pollution Control Unit) and the Community Task Force specialising in oil pollution response was put on standby.
As the situation seemed to become more and more critical on the16th February, arrangements were made to send two Task Force experts to Wales. Their assignment was to collect information and assist national authorities.
Meanwhile, EEA databases were indicating that a spill of persistent oil in this area would generate a serious biological risk.
Starting on the 16th February, the Commission disseminated daily progress reports to Member States and International Organisations including a fact sheet describing situational developments and activities performed by Task Force officials. The Eurospill slick drift programme, developed by the Commission, was used extensively to track the slick.
The first experts to be sent to Wales were composed of two experts from Cedre, whereas a scientist from AEA (Atomic Energy Agency) Technology was appointed co-ordinator for the European Community. Her task was to liaise with MPCU and co-ordinate the attendance of other officials from Member States to take the pressure off local authorities and responders.
Other member States did indeed intend to send observers to Wales and Holland was the first country to do so. On the 18th February two Dutch and one Irish representative teamed up with their French colleagues.
At that point in time, available information was pointing to the fact that the vessel was in serious danger of breaking up given the state of her centre and starboard wing tanks not to mention the very bad weather.
On the 20th, the European experts in attendance at the JRC (Joint Response Centre) were discussing international co-operation and assistance. The French Navy offered to send two response vessels with the TRANSREC sweeping arm recovery system which MPCU gladly accepted.
The lightering operation was lengthy and difficult but after a couple of days of very hard work, the Sea Empress was finally refloated and towed to Milford Haven on the 21st. This was only the beginning of very complicated and tedious recovery and clean-up operations.
On the 21st, three Swedish experts joined the team and were subsequently followed by two Italian and one Norwegian observer. Meanwhile, the Dutch had offered and sent two vessels equipped with their « sweeping arm system » which afforded an extra response resource and was an excellent example of co-operation between Member States.
The French and Dutch observers were also tasked with being liaison officers for their national authorities and their British colleagues.
As the situation steadily improved, the European Community started phasing out Task Force intervention as of the 4 th March. French and Dutch response vessels left the scene of operations and a number of observers also left the JRC. The Task Force’s last observer left Milford Haven on the 12th March.
Financial support from the European Commission
Local Authorities in Wales, Cornwall and Devon requested financial support from the Commission in a bid to set up an environmental monitoring programme.
This kind of activity had already been approved after the Aegean Sea spill in 1992 and the Braer in 1993.