Rock-solid effort as volunteers clean up

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Volunteers spent yesterday scrubbing oil from the rocks at Tenby while adults and children prepared to hold a candlelight vigil along the West Wales coastline to express "grief and abandonment" following the Sea Empress oil disaster at Milford Haven.

The cleaning operation began on Saturday and was expected to last all week. By yesterday 70 volunteers, using cleaning materials and overalls donated by Texaco, had managed to tackle a large part of the badly-hit Tenby beach. Maureen Ward, the mayor of Tenby, who organised the clean-up, said many local people had wanted to do something but had initially been forbidden to help with the oil removal.

"I understand the joint response committee saying `you can't go there because of insurance and health and safety', but as long as they're all aware that they're doing it at their own risk then I thought we should help," she said yesterday.

"There were no problems at all. A lot of people said it made them feel like they were doing something. Many people are coming down tomorrow."

Meanwhile, hundreds of people were expected to line the Pembrokeshire coastline from 5pm yesterday in a candlelit vigil for their damaged environment. Organiser Brigitte Osborne, a French tutor, said the protest was "unofficial and unpolitical" but aimed at giving people a chance to express their sadness and offer comfort through solidarity.

"It's also about bearing witness to this unthinkable tragedy. Seeing it in pictures or on the television is nothing like actually witnessing it," she said. "We want to explain to children so nobody forgets. It's still very real for us but already people are feeling so abandoned."

She said people outside the area had not acknowledged the depth of feeling caused in West Wales by the oil disaster. "There is tremendous grief at the loss of not just their livelihood but the damage to the environment. The destruction is just extraordinary," Ms Osborne said.

"I've never done anything like this before but I just witnessed so many people crying and I felt it was a way to give comfort. People are feeling abandoned by the Government and totally disillusioned. They are saying if it had happened on the South coast then this would be completely different."

Meanwhile, the threat of industrial action at the oil port of Milford Haven has subsided after plans to suspend the pilot at the centre of the Sea Empress disaster were apparently withdrawn. Michael Hyslop, the head of the port authority, denied there had been any plans for suspension.

Labour MP Nick Ainger said that following an attempt to suspend John Pearn, the pilot on the tanker when it ran aground, the port's 12 pilots had threatened to walk out.

"The threat of industrial action was very real until the threat against the pilot was withdrawn," said Mr Ainger yesterday. "His colleagues reacted and said that if disciplinary action began before the inquiry was completed then they will take industrial action and close the port."

Mr Ainger, MP for Pembroke, said there was little confidence in the inquiry as it was not considered independent.