Light fuel oil slick likely to disperse


LABORATORY TESTS on the oil slick drifting off the south coast have confirmed that it is a light crude oil which may disperse before reaching the Irish Sea coastlines.

The Irish Coast Guard, which is meeting a Russian military delegation on the issue today, received the initial results at the weekend.

However, Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) says it is undertaking tests of both wild and farmed shellfish on the southern seaboard as a precautionary measure.

Irish Coast Guard director Chris Reynolds told The Irish Timesthat the issue of cost recovery and liability for the pollution incident would be discussed at today’s meeting with the Russian Federation representatives – including the deputy commander of the Russian Navy.

A 46,000-tonne Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, the flagship of the Russian Navy, was in the sea area some 80km southeast of Fastnet Rock at the time of the incident 10 days ago.

The Russian Federation says it may have occurred during “cleaning” of the aircraft carrier, but has not accepted responsibility officially for the spill.

The Department of Transport has requested fuel samples from the aircraft carrier, which is en route back to Russia with its refuelling tanker and tug.

Light weather conditions over the past week have protected the southern coastline from the worst effects of the spill. Computer modelling by the Marine Institute indicates that it is only moving at five nautical miles a day and dispersing gradually, some 50km south of Cork harbour.

The environmental organisation Coastwatch has criticised lack of information on pollution response plans by local authorities. It is understood that Wexford has almost completed its oil pollution response plan as required by law, but neither Waterford nor Cork have completed their strategies for assessment.

BIM says that it has been working with local authorities on ensuring sensitive habitats are protected. BIM’s aquaculture development manager Donal Maguire said that the additional shellfish testing was undertaken to collect baseline data, as the absence of same was an issue in previous pollution incidents such as the sinking of the Prestige oil tanker off Galicia, Spain in 2002. Over 100 small- and medium-sized farms produce some 25 per cent of all farmed mussels and oysters in inshore areas from Kenmare Bay in west Cork to Wexford harbour.

The slick is still being monitored by the European Maritime Safety Agency’s CleanSeasNet satellite system.