Firm fined £18,000 for oil spillage

By Danielle NuttallENVIRONMENT bosses issued a stark warning last night after a firm was fined for causing a "disaster" on a waterway that left dozens of birds coated in oil.

By Danielle Nuttall

ENVIRONMENT bosses issued a stark warning last night after a firm was fined for causing a "disaster" on a waterway that left dozens of birds coated in oil.

Two swans died and dozens more needed treatment after up to 20 tonnes of oil escaped into the Orwell Estuary from a fractured pipeline controlled by Felixstowe Tank Developments Ltd.

The firm, which admitted the incident, was ordered yesterday to pay £20,000 in fines and compensation following the spill, which happened on February 13 last year during a ship-to-shore transfer.

It was fined £18,000 by East Suffolk magistrates, ordered to pay £12,839 in court costs and hand over £2,000 in compensation to the RSPCA.

Speaking after the case, Christopher McArthur, environment management team leader for the Environment Agency, said: "This was a major spillage of oil into the local estuaries with serious consequences for both wildlife and local communities.

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"It was only by the prompt action of Harwich Haven Authority and ourselves that we minimised the repercussions."

He added: "The fine imposed today demonstrates that we will not countenance the neglect of oil pipelines and systems that can then result in significant environmental damage following their failure.

"Lessons must be learned from this type of incident to prevent any likelihood of a repetition."

The oil slick was already 40ft wide by the time it reached the sea and was noticed by a ship foreman employed by the Felixstowe Dock Railway Company, who smelled the oil.

Instructions were then given to stop pumping and barriers of wood and sand were quickly built to prevent further oil entering the water.

An engineer was asked to carry out emergency repairs to the pipe while Felixstowe port used a deflection boom to contain the oil.

A tanker was used to remove oil and contaminated water and later more containment booms were deployed in the Harwich area.

Oil was found on beaches in Harwich, but the spill was limited by the rapid response of the Harwich Haven Authority, the Port of Felixstowe, Environment Agency and other organisations.

However, the oil did spread into nearby environmentally sensitive areas, including the Walton Backwaters and the Stour estuary.

About 40 swans were affected – two of which died – as well as an unknown number of other seabirds. RSPCA officers and voluntary workers rescued the oiled swans and cleaned them.

A health and safety analysis commissioned by the Environment Agency on the fractured pipe concluded the underlying causes of the failure of the pipe were "an inadequate system of maintenance and inspection of the corrosion protection system and the pipe".

A spokesman for Felixstowe Tank Developments Ltd said it had been operating since 1962 and during that time it had imported more than 12 million tonnes of product via the oil jetty.

"This is the first spillage of this type from the jetty to occur during that time. The company very much regrets that this incident happened and are relieved that no long-term harm to the environment resulted from it," he added.

"We continue to work with both the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency to find ways to ensure that such incidents cannot re-occur."

Speaking after the case, RSPCA inspector John Bowe said: "Basically, the courts are strong on environmental incidents like this and it's good that a heavy sentence was carried out.

"Lots of birds were affected and badly oiled. Luckily, we had a wildlife unit in Norfolk trained for these matters. It was a major incident."

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