`Exxon Valdez' fills up in Forth

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WHEN THE SeaRiver Mediterranean sailed up the Firth of Forth last week, she looked much like any other supertanker coming in to take on a huge load of North Sea crude. But, it emerged last night, the 1,000ft- long ship once sailed under a different name, the most notorious in environmental history - the Exxon Valdez.

When she ran aground in an Alaskan bay in March 1989 the 215,000 tonne tanker caused the world's worst oil pollution disaster. The ship, owned by a subsidiary of the Exxon oil company - known as Esso in Britain, docked at Hound Point in the Scottish estuary last week. Its 26-strong crew completed two hours of safety procedures and checks before it began to take on board a cargo of one million barrels of oil.

Once the tanks were filled the SeaRiver Mediterranean sailed out of the Forth escorted by three BP Amoco harbour tugs. It was heading for Savona, Italy but is expected to sail back into the Forth next month, the tenth anniversary of the disaster in Alaska.

The ship is now painted black and red and bears none of the scars of the grounding which resulted in the spillage of 11 million gallons of oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound. In the cold, still waters the oil failed to evaporate and spread, eventually slicking 1,500 miles of coastline. The pollution cost the multinational oil giant several billion dollars in compensation.

Scientists estimated that 100,000 seabirds, 16 whales, 147 bald eagles, and thousands of otters and fish died in the months and years after the spill. Local fishing communities suffered from the destruction of salmon, black cod and herring spawning grounds.

Today the ship is still barred from Prince William Sound.Caroline Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the Scottish Green Party, said: "They may have changed its name, but the Exxon Valdez could still be capable of another massive oil spill ... the government must act now to bar these single-hulled oil tankers from our waters." Marine superintendent Captain Tony Pollock, from BP Amoco which operates the oil loading terminal, said: "We have an extremely rigorous policy and all vessels have to come up to a very high standard."