The Shetland Oil Disaster: 'Everyone was praying it would miss'

JOHN LEACH, an environmental health officer with Shetland Islands Council, and his colleagues watched helplessly as the Braer was dashed on to the rocks of Fitful Head, so named because of its awesome reputation for storms.

'It was obvious from 10 to 20 minutes before she hit the rocks that it was going to happen and there was nothing anyone could do,' he said. 'We had all the equipment, the restraining booms, the maps, but because of the prevailing weather conditions we could only watch. The gales were at force 7 to 10, gusting 12, that's impossible to describe. Everyone was praying it would miss the rocks; the coastguards, the pilots, everyone. For a while it looked like it would, but the wind changed direction slightly. The crew were put back on in a last- ditch attempt to secure a line, but there was nothing to be done.

'We all had a sense of hopelessness and anger. Anger at the disaster happening in combination with some of the worst weather in the winter. No oil was coming ashore when I left. We wouldn't have seen the oiled birds, otters and seals in the water because of the weather. We will soon. This is a puffin-breeding colony - thank God the breeding season is over. A number of people, keen bird-watchers, were close to tears.

'It's horrendous. There is just nothing we can do. It seems likely that she will break up. It is the worst thing that could have happened. We only have six and a half hours of daylight, maybe seven on a good clear day. The lack of light will hamper us. Our emergency plans are practised constantly and we have had offers of help and equipment from across the country. There has been a tremendous response, but until the weather changes we must wait.'

Callum Greig, who works on a platform in the Brent field, saw the tanker's final moments afloat from his hotel breakfast table in Sumbrugh. Unable to fly to his workplace because of the weather, he and two friends walked along the rain and wind-lashed coast to watch as the ship moved at a brisk walking pace towards the rocks, broadside on.

'Gradually she came into view through the rain and murk, first the funnel then the superstructure,' said Mr Greig from Aberdeen. 'She came slowly across the bay, then hit the coast. There was no big bang or anything, but it was incredible just watching it unfold.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineers

£26000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineer...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This care provider provides hom...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Services Manager - (communications, testing, DM)

£32000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Services Manage...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Apprenticeships

£10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an outstanding opportunity for 1...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum