The toll of birds killed in oil disaster mounts as scientists find two new species of Britain's most common bat

'Sea Empress' spill claims 25,000 birds
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The Independent Online
PETER VICTOR

More than 25,000 sea birds may have been killed by the disastrous oil spill from the Sea Empress tanker, the RSPCA said yesterday.

Latest casualty figures show that just under 2,500 carcasses have been collected along the South Wales coastline. But wildlife experts say reliable scientific data indicates that only one dead bird in ten is recovered. "There is no doubt whatsoever that many more birds are dying out at sea," Richard Timothy, an RSPCA spokesman, said. "When the current calm weather breaks, we expect an increase in the numbers of oiled birds being driven ashore."

Conservation organisations and volunteers are now caring for more than 3,000 oiled survivors at RSPCA bird hospitals. A special unit with a dozen small pools is opening at Milford Haven, south-west Wales, where RSPCA inspectors will be able to test the buoyancy and fitness of birds before releasing them back into the wild.

Diving teams were yesterday assessing damage to the ruptured tanks of the 147,000 tonne Sea Empress, now empty and berthed at the port after spilling more than half its cargo of oil into the sea when it ran aground. Updated figures yesterday showed that more than 72,000 tonnes of oil from an original cargo of 130,824 tonnes had spewed into the sea.

Marine engineers with the Anglo-Dutch salvage crew are making preparations to sail or tow the giant disabled vessel to a repair yard, possibly in Belfast or northern France.

Landing craft specialists from the Royal Marines are to help in the massive clear-up operation, which is expected to take two weeks. Men and equipment from the Royal Marines Landing Craft Wing at Poole, Dorset, have been drafted in to transport equipment to beaches and coves inaccessible by road.

Species death toll

Manx Shearwater 1

Fulmar 1

Great northern diver 2

Black-throated 1

Red-throated diver 10

Great crested grebe 2

Gannet 2

Shag 2

Cormorant 34

Shelduck 1

Scoter 1,334

Oystercatcher 8

Turnstone 2

Black headed gull 2

Common gull 1

Herring gull 2

Kittiwake 2

Guillemot 720

Razorbill 178

Unidentified

(covered in oil) 143

Total at 4 March 2,448

Source: David Wheeler, Countryside Council for Wales.

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