Brent Spar break-up begins

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THE LAST act of the Brent Spar saga began yesterday when Shell, owner of the giant oil-storage buoy, began to dismantle it in a Norwegian fjord.

It was the company's final retreat from plans to sink the 14,500-tonne rig in the Atlantic, which the Greenpeace environmental pressure group defeated in a blaze of world-wide publicity in 1995.

Yesterday, one of the world's largest floating cranes began removing the 1,600-tonne topside and the control and accommodation superstructure, which will be scrapped. The tubular hull of the Spar will then be cut into metal rings, which will be filled with ballast and used to form a ferry quay at Mekjarvik, near Stavanger.

Shell's land-based disposal of the rig will take a year and cost pounds 43m, compared with the pounds 4.5m bill for dumping it in the ocean.

Greenpeace saw that plan as a test case of how all maritime oil rigs should be disposed of and deployed its skill at eye-catching protest to fight it, occupying the Spar from helicopters and boats. Protests escalated and Shell,faced with an international boycott of its petrol stations, abandoned its plan.

Its change of heart embarrassed John Major, then prime minister, who had sided with Shell.

The rig has been moored in deep Norwegian fjords for the past three years, and is now in Yrkjefjord, north of Stavanger.

In July the oil-exploring countries of the North Sea and North Atlantic, including Britain, agreed that all oil platforms in the sea would be brought ashore for disposal, except the largest. Britain's agreement will cost the UK oil industry pounds 9bn.

Chris Rose, Greenpeace's programme director, said yesterday: "The real significance of the campaign was that one of the largest companies in the world had to change its plan very publicly because it did not fit with the values of its customers and of the public."