Oil slick warning
EXPERTS investigating oil washed up on Felixstowe's award-winning beaches say it could easily happen again – and the culprits would get away with it.The authorities admitted today that it is almost impossible to trace the source of oil spills at sea and to prosecute those responsible.
EXPERTS investigating oil washed up on Felixstowe's award-winning beaches say it could easily happen again – and the culprits would get away with it.
The authorities admitted today that it is almost impossible to trace the source of oil spills at sea and to prosecute those responsible.
All efforts are being made to track down the vessel which flushed out its tanks and caused a slick off the Suffolk coast and which then washed ashore, killing seabirds and leaving fist-sized tar-like lumps of oil on beaches.
Beachwalkers at Felixstowe have been finding oil on the sand and pebbles and stuck to seaweed all week, and some have had shoes and clothes ruined.
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The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is co-ordinating the investigation and working with the Environment Agency and other groups on the clean-up.
Brian Elliott, MCA scientist, said: "We have taken samples of the oil and sent them for analysis, but we know from previous experience, it will be extremely difficult to establish the cause of this pollution in this type of incident."
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Scientists believe that the oil slick would not have been caused by a tanker or other ships dumping oil, but is more likely to have been a vessel flushing out its tanks in the open sea, leaving residue to break up and be dispersed by the sea.
Coastguard aircraft patrol the North Sea to keep a look-out for such incidents, but often when they spot the oil the vessel is long gone.
With the shipping lanes off Suffolk – particularly those leading to Felixstowe port – among the busiest in the world, investigations are even more complex.
A spokesman for the Environment Agency said: "All efforts are being made to discover the source of the pollutant, and if the company or individual responsible for the incident are found then they would face prosecution.
"However, it will be very difficult to establish the cause of pollution in this type of incident."
It had happened in the past and the agency could not rule out similar incidents in the future.
If anyone discovers sea birds or for other animals on the beach alive but distressed because of being oiled they should ring the RSPCA on 08705 555999. If the birds are dead, they should call Suffolk Coastal on 01394 444015.