Oil slick prompts criticism of emergency planning

Sat, Feb 21, 2009, 00:00

WHILE THERE are hopes the oil slick off the south coast will stay offshore long enough to be broken up by wind and tide, environmentalists are concerned about the lack of preparedness along the shore in counties Cork, Waterford and Wexford.

It has emerged that none of the potential coastal counties at risk in the southeast have completed their oil pollution emergency response plans.

A Russian navy delegation is due to arrive in Dublin at the weekend to offer “assistance” over the oil pollution incident off the southern coastline. The Russian navy has not officially admitted responsibility, but believes the slick may have been caused during “cleaning” of its flagship, the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov.

The oil slick some 50km south of the Old Head of Kinsale and moving very slowly in an easterly direction may break up in northerly winds over the weekend.

The Irish Coast Guard is hoping northerly winds forecast for the weekend may help to drive the slick offshore and break it up. Modelling by the Marine Institute indicates it is moving at five nautical miles a day and may evaporate and disperse with wind and currents.

The environmental organisation Coastwatch has criticised the absence of public information and says the Government needs to undertake an urgent review of pollution response.

Approved oil pollution response plans are a statutory obligation for local authorities, ports and fishery harbours under the Sea Pollution Amendment Act 1999. Templates were distributed to all relevant bodies by the Irish Coast Guard.

It is understood Wexford County Council’s plan is almost complete, but strategies for Cork and Waterford are still being worked on. Neither local authority was available for comment yesterday evening.

Coastwatch spokeswoman Karin Dubsky said the weather had been “incredibly kind” since the pollution was detected by the European Maritime Safety Agency’s CleanSeasNet satellite monitoring system last Saturday, some 80km southeast of Fastnet Rock.

“Oil could still come to shore next week as the weather is now set to change. The tar balls reported by the Irish Coast Guard can persist for a long time and be washed back on to our presently tar-free shores weeks later.”

The Russian delegation, which includes the deputy commander of the Russian navy and experts, will meet Minister of State for Transport Noel Ahern and Irish Coast Guard officials on Monday.