On the 15th February 1996, a radio broadcast announced the grounding of an oil tanker called the Sea Empress at Saint Anne’s Head on the Welsh coastline with 135 000 tonnes of Forties crude on board. The following morning the French Sycopol organisation (French pollution response equipment manufacturers Union) conveyed an offer of assistance to ITOPF (International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation): available equipment and responders from France to be available on site within 48 hours.
The British Authorities immediately mobilised their response resources in addition to OSRL (Oil Spill Response Limited) which is a co-operative specialising in oil pollution response based in Southampton which shipped equipment including an Egmopol DAHSW 1041 barge (purchased towards the end of 1991) on the16th February.
The barge was put into action on the 19th close to the tanker which by that time had been towed to an Oil Terminal a few miles West of Milford Haven. A floating boom was deployed around the tanker to contain the leaking oil gushing out of the tanker. Over the first four days, as responders prepared to lighter the vessel, the barge recovered about 100 cu m of oil per day working 18 hour days.
The following week, slicks drifting in Milford Estuary and the harbour were jetted and recovered by the barge that could make its way into the upper reaches of the creeks and dock areas where thick patches of oil were to be found.; 12 to 15 hours was the time it took to fill the barge tank twice each day and recover 60 cu m of oil and water that were then stored in a pillow tank nearby.
In view of the results achieved by the Egmopol barge, the MPCU (Marine Pollution Control Unit : unit belonging to the MCA specialised in pollution response at sea) asked their rep, a Scottish firm, Alba International to contact the manufacturers and request that other barges be made available for the response job. On the 1st March a hire purchase agreement was signed enabling two more Egmopol barges to be withdrawn from the Polmar stockpiles in Brest for shipment to Wales. The barges crossed Brittany and Wales on a wide lorry.
The barges arrived on site on the 3rd March and were immediately put into action by people working for Alba International in support of responders working for OSRL in Milford Estuary and Tenby harbour about 30 kilometres from Milford Haven.
At high tide, oil was recovered in Tenby and Milford and at low tide the coastline was cleaned up. Every day, three to four loads of recovered oil and water were discharged for treatment. From mid March onwards most of the spilled oil had been recovered. The barges were gradually phased out, cleaned and put on stand-by.
Egmopol barges do very well in this kind of situation:
- the sheltered water areas in Milford and Tenby enable the barge to do a very efficient job;
- the fact that the barge had to contend with thin patches of oil was a good argument for using the settling system that sepmarated the oil and water as the skimming operation continued, which produced loads containing at least 50% oil;
- some places are hard to reach by sea or land and the barges are very manoeuvrable and hence very useful.
One or two suggestions can however be made in order to enhance responder working conditions, such as:
- in situ spot lights for night operations;
- an oil and water tight compartment for storing personal belongings;
- the non skid deck surface needs improving as the rubber duckboards were slippery when coated with oil.