Shetland protest halts spraying

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The Independent Online
THE spraying of chemical dispersants on to the oil slick from the wrecked tanker Braer in Shetland had to be abandoned yesterday after protests from islanders.

Some threatened to walk on to the airport runway at Sumburgh after hearing that 15 tons of Dispolene 34S, a chemical banned in Norway, had been sprayed last week.

Six Department of Transport Dakota aircraft were taking advantage of a lull in the gales to resume spraying but stopped in the face of the protests. In any case, the six Dakotas were forced to seek shelter from the storms.

Complaints that sprayed dispersants had reached the land were made by Jim Wallace, Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland, and local councillors. The Department of Transport took Mr Wallace up in a helicopter yesterday to demonstrate how accurate the spraying could be. But the demonstration was abandoned after the protest.

Officials investigating the disaster believe poor maintenance and safety procedures may have led crew members accidentally to wreck the Braer's engine.

Immediately after the accident Ulthie Roldan, the chief engineer, said the 'bad weather meant that sea had got into the fuel tanks', an explanation derided by most marine engineers.

Members of the Department of Transport's Marine Accident Investigation Branch have disclosed that they are looking at the possibility that crew members failed to siphon water and contaminants from the ship's diesel fuel tanks. This, combined with faulty or incorrectly set purifers - through which the fuel has to pass - would have allowed levels of water to build up in the fuel supply until eventually contaminated diesel was pumped directly into the auxiliary engines, causing them to break down.

Chris Jenman, chairman of Global Maritime, which specialises in investigating tanker accidents, said a typical engine room's water purifers would fail 'at least once' during most voyages, adding: 'Most accidents of this nature involve some equipment failure combined with a poor operator.'