Tanker disaster was port's fault

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THE PORT of Milford Haven admitted yesterday it was to blame for the Sea Empress oil tanker disaster, which cost more than pounds 100m in damage and clean-up costs.

Cardiff Crown Court was told that John Pearn, the pilot who guided the ship on the night it ran aground, had never before handled a ship as big as the 147,000-tonne Sea Empress. He lost control of the ship in the strong tides around the rocky entrance of Milford Haven.

Mr Pearn's employers appeared in court to admit causing the disaster. The port authority pleaded guilty to causing 72,000 tonnes of crude oil to enter the sea off Pembroke-shire, south-west Wales, in February 1996. More than 20,000 sea birds are thought to have perished and 120 miles of coast was polluted. Local fisheries closed for months while tourism claims could be as high as pounds 46m.

Michael Hill QC, counsel for the Environment Agency, told the court the port authority should not have allowed Mr Pearn to bring in such a large tanker without a second pilot.

The agency laid the blame for the spill, Britain's second-worst tanker catastrophe, on the flawed rules, procedures and management of Milford Haven Port Authority, and on defects in the way it trained its maritime pilots.