All at sea: the case against polluters of the Welsh coastline

Friends of the Earth yesterday vowed to prosecute those to blame for the Sea Empress oil disaster if the Government's Environment Agency fails to.

The environmental group is convinced there is enough evidence to launch a criminal prosecution for the pollution caused after the tanker ran aground at the entrance to Milford Haven harbour a year ago today.

But it is not yet sure who to prosecute; yesterday its campaigns director Tony Juniper said the Department of Transport, the Milford Haven Port Authority and the tanker's managers, Acomarit UK, were all possible candidates.

Leigh, Day & Co, lawyers for Friends of the Earth, have written to the Environment Agency to say that unless it initiates a criminal prosecution by 15 April the group will launch a private one.

The letter complains that the agency, which has strong powers to prosecute water polluters, has had nearly a year to consider prosecuting - but has still not yet decided whether to do so. The agency confirmed yesterday that its own investigations are continuing.

"What's going on?" asked Mr Juniper. "It's clear that this disaster was avoidable. If justice is to be done, then we must have proper enforcement of environmental law."

Yesterday Friends reinforced its point by dumping several pails of Sea Empress oil on the steps of the Department of Transport in Marsham Street, central London. The pollution can still be found from time to time on Pembrokeshire beaches because it is lifted out of remote coves or off the seabed during storms and at high tides.

The fully laden tanker struck rocks then lost a small quantity of its cargo of North Sea crude as it entered Milford Haven in south-west Wales, on 15 February last year.

But over 70,000 tonnes, much more than half its cargo, was lost during the many attempts to salvage the ship over the next week. Tugs failed to hold the tanker in place as strong tidal currents dragged it over the rocks, holing it again and again.

Eventually it was refloated and brought into port. The ship has now been repaired and is going back into service. But Pembrokeshire suffered Britain's most damaging oil spill since the Torrey Canyon struck rocks off Cornwall 30 years ago.

The Government's official accident investigation report will not be published for about another month. This has examined the initial grounding and the salvage operation carried out jointly between the Coastguard Agency's Marine Pollution Control Unit and the port authority, and widely regarded as having been bungled.

The Marine Conservation Society said that despite the recommendations of the Braer inquiry by Lord Donaldson, there was still no permanent fleet of salvage tugs stationed around the UK to be called on in tanker emergencies. The DoT maintains three very powerful "supertugs" - one near Dover, Kent, one off the West Country and one near the Hebrides - in the winter only.

Environmental groups and local people were furious that there was no public inquiry into the disaster, even though it happened just three years after Britain's previous big oil spill. In 1993 the tanker Braer lost all power, struck the Shetland isles and spilt all its cargo. Far less damage was caused along the Shetland coast than in Pembrokeshire because raging storms dispersed the oil.

But the Sea Empress oil washed onto 120 miles of cliff and beach, much of it in Britain's only maritime national park. Five thousand sea birds were known to have been killed, but many more died because the bodies of most oiled seabirds never reach the shore.

There was a ban on all fishing in surrounding waters, but that has been progressively lifted. The harvesting of shellfish is still not allowed from between the low and high tide marks and a couple of small sea areas. Nor can edible seaweeds and samphire be harvested.

Nearly pounds 2m is being spent on around 100 scientific studies into the impacts of the spill, most of which are not yet complete. It is known that there was massive short term damage to wildlife and the breeding of some seabirds was set back. Fortunately the long term damage appears, so far, to be minor.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
Life and Style
Baroness Lane-Fox warned that large companies such as have become so powerful that governments and regulators are left behind
techTech giants have left governments and regulators behind
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin visits her 1990s work ‘My Bed’ at Tate Britain in London, where it is back on display from today
artsBut how does the iconic work stand up, 16 years on?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor