'Sea Empress' lies in Belfast dockyard

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The Independent Online
The Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast has beaten off stiff international competition to land the contract for a dry-dock damage assessment of the Sea Empress, which spilled around 70,000 tons of crude oil when it ran aground on Welsh beaches last February, writes Peter Victor.

A number of other yards are now tendering for the contract to repair the tanker.

Environmentalists are still counting the cost of the spillage, which damaged more protected wildlife sites than any other single pollution incident.

Twenty-six Government- designated sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) on the coastline of west Wales were hit by slicks. The sites stretched from the beaches and dunes of Pendine and Laugharne Sands in the east to Wales's only undersea nature reserve, around the island of Skomer in the west.

At least 120 miles of beach was oiled, most of it within the Pembrokeshire Coastal National Park. Some 2,500 birds were killed by spilled oil. A further 3,000 oiled birds were rescued alive by the RSPCA.

An inquiry into the spillage found that the master of the ship and the pilot had not discussed a plan for the approach before the vessel entered the West Channel at the mouth of Milford Haven.

The interim report by accident investigators, published by the Government last March, indicated that errors were made by the Milford Haven pilot and not by the tanker's crew. The Department of Transport's Marine Accident Investigation Branch found that the ship had no known deficiencies.