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The Government's official accident investigation report will not be published for about another month.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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones