Gales force salvagers off oil tanker again


A FORCE-nine gale last night forced salvage experts to abandon the crippled supertanker Sea Empress for a second time.

The huge vessel, with its hazardous 140,000-tonne oil cargo, was spending another wild night at the mercy of high seas and winds battering the Pembrokeshire coast.

Despite the latest setback in their marathon rescue efforts, marine engineers hope to reboard the ship this morning and continue preparations for off loading the oil to prevent an ecological disaster.

But last night two towing lines from a single powerful tug were the only control over the crewless tanker buffeted by 10ft waves.

During the day more oil leaked from its ruptured tanks, but still not in large quantities, according to experts monitoring pollution.

Mr Joe Small, head of operations for the coastguard Marine Pollution Control Unit, said attempts would be made to reattach lines from other tugs at the scene.

Wires were torn free during a gale on Saturday night and the tanker broke its moorings and was swept several hundred yards further out into the Milford Haven estuary. Mr Small said: "The vessel is not under as much control as we would like." He denied that it was in danger of breaking up.

A five man salvage team was yesterday winched from a helicopter onto the tanker's heaving deck.

Lorna Siggins adds: As northeasterlies were forecast for the Irish Sea today, the Irish Marine Emergency Service (IMES) said that the oil spill posed no immediate threat to the Irish coast. The wind change would sweep any residue towards the Bristol Channel, a spokesman said.

However, a former Dublinbased marine salvage expert has criticised the handling of the incident saying that elementary precautions were not taken in the initial stages. The ship should have been towed clear of the coast before the weather broke over the weekend with deep sea tugs, Mr Des Branigan told The Irish Times.