Huge oil slick heads for Ireland and Wales

A A A

The biggest oil slick to threaten Ireland and the UK for more than ten years was tonight being tracked as it moved closer towards coastlines.

The spill, discovered near to where a Russian warship was refuelling in the Celtic Sea, is now believed to be 1000 tonnes - over three times the original estimate - and could reach Irish and Welsh shores in just over two weeks.

The incident in Irish-patrolled waters has sparked a flurry of diplomatic contact between Dublin and Russia, while British authorities have also been drawn into the ongoing investigations.

Environmentalists said it has the potential to devastate marine and wildlife, with knock-on effects on seaside tourism and fishing hot-spots.

A Russian destroyer, a British destroyer, an Irish Naval vessel and a Russian aircraft carrier remain at the scene of the spill about 50 miles south of Fastnet Rock, off the west Cork coast, along with an ocean-going tug and two refuelling tankers.

The Irish government has asked the Russian embassy in Dublin to hand over samples of the oils carried onboard the Russian tankers and aircraft carrier.

While some of the slick - originally covering an area of around 2.8 miles by 3.1 miles - will break up or evaporate, the bulk of it is expected to remain on the surface, and is veering eastwards at around 12 miles a day.

"The residual oil remaining is expected to develop into tar balls," said a spokeswoman for Ireland's Department of Transport.

"Depending on weather conditions these may end up on the Irish south east coast in approximately 16 days time and also impact on the Welsh coastline."

Both the Irish Coast Guard and the UK Coastguard are carrying out aerial surveillance flights, using special sonar equipment, over the area while a tug is being launched from Cork to carry out tests to see if the oil is recoverable at sea.

But authorities believe from past international experience that it is too difficult to contain and capture such a slick.

Friends of the Earth (FoE), the environmental organisation, has described it as a "significant spill" bound to cause serious damage to marine life and has called for a full investigation.

"It's extremely significant at that size. Damage to marine life is likely to be devastating, and this will have, as many environmental things do, economic repercussions," said Molly Walsh, FoE spokeswoman.

Samples of the oil have been taken from the scene for analysis, while Government departments and agencies are being constantly briefed about the potential impact to the environment.

Irish authorities were alerted to the spill on Saturday through a satellite surveillance pollution report by the European Maritime Safety Agency in Lisbon.

The Russian Navy confirmed one its carriers was refuelling at sea from a Russian supply tanker and said it was carrying out its own internal investigation.

The incident happened outside Irish territorial waters, but within an area known as Ireland's Exclusive Economic Zone, which it patrols, according to the Irish Government.

John Lucey, a senior biologist with Ireland's Environmental Protection Agency, said it was the biggest oil spillage in the waters around Ireland for more than 10 years and its impact depends on when it hits our shores.

When the Sea Empress ran aground off Milford Haven in south west Wales, in 1996, shedding 72,000 tonnes, it caused widespread damage to the nearby coastline.

By the time it reached Irish shores, the oil had formed into "tar balls" and had little or no impact.

But a spillage of just 31 tonnes in Cork Harbour a year later proved disastrous for marine and wildlife, particularly birds.

"If it did land here, and if it was two weeks, it could start forming tar balls and not be as potentially dangerous as a big, fresh slick coming onshore as we've had in the past," said Mr Lucey.

"If it's a slick, that's the danger."

Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
News
i100
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage: 'I don't know anybody in politics as poor as we are'
i100
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015