Leaked ministry memo opposed oil rig dumping

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The Independent Online

''The bottom line is that the waste cannot be dumped at sea. The only option is to take ashore and treat.''

These words are handwritten at the top of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) memo leaked to Greenpeace. Written some 18 months ago, they refer to the contents of the Brent Spar's oil storage tanks, now filled with 100 tonnes of oily, silty sludge and seawater.

They are understood to have been written by Dr John Campbell, head of the MAFF fisheries laboratory at Burnham on Crouch, Essex. Yesterday, the ministry did not dispute that they were his words. But, said a spokesman, the ministry was now satisfied that deep sea disposal at 6,000 feet alleviated the threat to marine life - in fact it was the ministry's warnings about the toxic hazards that had scotched the option of disposing of the Brent Spar near where it was anchored, in waters some 500 feet deep.

The Greenpeace environmental campaigner Paul Horsman, who initiated the spectacular protests against the Brent Spar, was unsatisfied with this answer. ''Dumping at sea is dumping at sea whatever the water depth. The contamination is still released to harm life.''

Greenpeace suffered a setback yesterday when two pilots of a helicopter it had chartered in Germany were held by police after landing at Prestwick Airport near Glasgow to refuel. It is understood their aircraft was used in last Friday's daring raid, when two activists were dropped on to the Brent Spar from the air. The two Germans had been flying their helicopter from Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis.

The Civil Aviation Authority launched an inquiry over allegations that the helicopter had breached the Air Navigation Order by failing to display registration markings.

The aircraft had been attached to the Greenpeace ship Altair, which has a helideck, and has been shadowing the Spar as it heads towards its Atlantic grave. Last night another Greenpeace ship, the MV Solo, was heading towards the Brent Spar with a helicopter on board.

Shell security staff are expected to attempt to board the Brent Spar to remove the two environmentalists - a Briton and a German. If they succeed, they can then use radio signals to detonate the two explosive charges believed to have already been placed on the structure. These will puncture buoyancy tanks, sending the Spar to the seabed more than a mile below.

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