Oil firm fined €1,250 over spillage


Poor checking procedures, lack of modern equipment and the turning of the wrong valve by an inexperienced worker led to a 140,000 litre oil spill into Dublin Bay nearly two years ago, a court heard yesterday.

Tedcastles Ltd, owners of the oldest high-rise oil tank in the bay, was yesterday fined €1,250 after pleading guilty to breaching health and safety regulations arising out of the spill on the bank holiday weekend of August 4th, 2000.

It cost Tedcastles between €196,000 and €285,000 to rectify the problems, much of it spent on a clean-up of the oil which spread as far as Sutton, Dublin District Court was told.

Health and safety inspector Mr John Dooley told the court the accident occurred as oil was being pumped from a tanker to the terminal storage tank.

The work was being carried out by contractors, DM Mechanical, which pumped oil on behalf of a number of companies in the bay, including Tedcastles.

Two tanks were to be supplied with diesel and a third with unleaded petrol.

A newly recruited worker for the contractors, who had never worked in the bay before, became "disoriented" and opened the wrong valve, instead of the one which would have opened the second diesel tank.

The tanks are fitted with electronic sensors to say they are full and the alarm on the first tank went off and then stopped. But because it was expected that a second tank was to be filled, the oil continued to pump.

A safety "bund" located around the tank to collect spillages only absorbed 60,000 litres, although it is designed to contain 110 per cent of tank capacity, because a multi-chambered trap system was not working properly.

The oil continued to pour until a port security guard, located some distance from the tank, reported what he thought was water spilling from the top of it. Of the 200,000 litres which had spilled out, 140,000 got into the sea.

The court also heard that had the tank gauge been inspected once an hour, as required during pumping operations, the spillage might have been noticed sooner.

Counsel for the company said plans had been in train around this time for a major capital investment at the terminal and since then equipment and procedures had been brought up to date. A Tedcastles supervisor was now on duty during every pumping operation.

Judge David Anderson said it seemed this was "an overflow waiting for a man to turn the wrong valve".

He had to give the company credit for pleading guilty and undertaking a major investment in the equipment .

Along with the €1,250 fine, he ordered the company to pay €1,100 costs and witness expenses.