The Shetland Oil Disaster: Sickly stench of the hurricane winds

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The Independent Online
THE TANKER was two miles away as the crow flies, out of sight behind a headland, but you could smell the sickly stench of crude oil.

Hurricane-force winds, gusting at well over 80mph, brought spume and oil vapour howling across the narrow, precipitous southern tip of the Shetlands and back out to sea.

The weather is foul. Winds have got up since the Braer went aground, and flying in just under the low cloud base, the sea below appeared an awesome mess - no tidy whitecaps, just angles and huge slabs and swirls of foam.

Early today the moon shone fitfully between vicious squalls bringing horizontal rain. It seemed certain the spill would worsen in these conditions, which are forecast to continue today. Drifting on to a rocky coast with these winds and seas, the tanker might as well be an egg as a steel structure. Absolutely nothing can be done to mount any kind of clean-up, and it seemed highly unlikely that oil could be pumped off the ship.

There was little sign of activity at Sumburgh airport, control centre for the containment operation, apart from a stream of arriving journalists - white faced from turbulent flights. One twin-engined British Airways turboprop had to make an emergency landing on one engine after the other failed seconds before touchdown.

Satellite dishes sprouted in the car parks. It's an oil rush: every hire car has been hired, every hotel and bed and breakfast room occupied.