Cargo ship blamed for cooking-oil spill

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A cargo ship is suspected of spilling several tons of cooking oil and forcing the closure of a 12-mile stretch of coastline in North Wales, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said yesterday.

Several beaches on the north shores of Anglesey were closed for the weekend as a 30cm-wide slick of "vegetable-based" oil washed in from the Irish Sea.

Much of the shoreline between Carmel Head and Point Lynas will be closed for up to three days as teams of environmental workers use shovels to remove the pollutant.

Officials stressed that while the spillage was a significant inconvenience at the start of the summer season, it posed no threat to humans or wildlife.

Samples of the oily substance have been taken to the Coastguard Agency's laboratory in Edinburgh where chemical tests are expected today to confirm a spillage of vegetable oil, commonly used for frying food, rather than the darker and more environmentally destructive crude oil.

An investigation will focus on vessels using the busy shipping route around Holyhead.

Kevin Colcomb, a Coastguard Agency scientist, said: "We will be considering traffic routing and cargo along this stretch of coastline. However, this is an exceptionally busy shipping area and it may be difficult to identify the offender."

Holyhead coastguards who discovered the white and yellow globules appearing on beaches on Saturday morning said the extent of the spill was "substantial" and launched a clean-up operation involving four teams of coastguards and a lifeboat crew.

David North, a coastguard, said: "In [Cemaes Beach] there is up to five and a half tons of this oily substance."