Mystery slick kills hundreds of birds on Norfolk coast

A A A

The first casualties started arriving on the beaches three weeks ago, a tide of wretched creatures transformed from diving sea birds to listless feathered flesh by a thick coat of stinking fuel oil.

The first casualties started arriving on the beaches three weeks ago, a tide of wretched creatures transformed from diving sea birds to listless feathered flesh by a thick coat of stinking fuel oil.

By yesterday, the number of birds recovered from the mystery slick had reached 640, with more than 200 dead including protected species such as red throated divers and great crested grebes. This may sound like the havoc being wreaked in northern Spain by the sinking of the tanker Prestige but this disaster is happening in British waters along a 200-mile stretch of coast from Lincolnshire to Essex.

Research reveals that the slick floating off East Anglia is part of an estimated 400,000 tons of oil leaked little by little into the world's oceans by vessels of all sizes – equivalent to more than a dozen Prestige-scale disasters – every year.

Wildlife experts from the RSPCA who are treating the sick animals in East Anglia said the true number of birds affected by the oil was likely to be a 10 times the number found on the shore – representing some 6,400 oiled birds and about 2,000 dead.

Ian Robinson, the RSPCA's chief vet, said: "Many of the birds have been covered in so much oil or ingested so much they have to be put down on the spot. They could not survive."

The root of the problem is believed to be a pool of oil about 10 metres wide and stretching for five miles, which was spotted by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency on 21 November between Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth. A further two, smaller slicks have been spotted close to Southwold in Suffolk and Hunstanton in Norfolk. Environmentalists say the most likely cause of the spillage is from the tanks of a submerged wreck off the Belgian coast or a passing ship flushing out fuel, cargo or oil residue from bilge pumps.

Government figures show that there are more than 740 leaks of oil and chemicals from ships and oil rigs in British waters every year. In 2000, the latest year for which statistics are available, there were 27 incidents in which more than two tons of oil or fuel were dumped off the British coast. Most of them are what the industry calls "operational" pollution – illegal tank flushing rather than collisions or catastrophic structural failure such as that which led to the Prestige breaking up.

The problem is global. A study published last month by the American National Research Council found that, of the 413,000 tons of oil released into the sea annually by vessels from fishing boats to bulk carriers and supertankers, more than 75 per cent came from operational pollution.

Anti-pollution campaigners say that the small-scale clandestine dumping of oil and other toxic substances, often by vessels flying flags of convenience and seeking to avoid paying harbour fees for the safe disposal of their waste, is now one of the biggest sources of marine pollution.

* The nuclear power company British Energy is to be prosecuted for allegedly dumping radioactive waste into the sea from the Torness Nuclear Power Station. The company, which is in financial difficulty, has been accused of illegally discharging 60 cubic metres of contaminated water from the plant's laundry, sink and shower units into the sea off the East Lothian coast in October last year. The case will be heard next month.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London