Pipeline operators await legal fate

INVESTIGATORS are today nearing a decision over the potential prosecution of pipeline operators after thousands of gallons of oil was spilled.Nine months have so far been spent studying the Felixstowe spill collecting evidence, analysing laboratory samples and interviewing people involved.

INVESTIGATORS are today nearing a decision over the potential prosecution of pipeline operators after thousands of gallons of oil was spilled.

Nine months have so far been spent studying the Felixstowe spill collecting evidence, analysing laboratory samples and interviewing people involved.

Environment Agency officials say work is still not complete – but they are building a case and expect to make an announcement early in the New Year.

Felixstowe Tank Developments Limited (FTD) – a subsidiary of port owners Hutchison Ports UK – is waiting to hear its fate.

Dozens of oiled mute swans, guillemots, waders and cormorants were found in the Orwell estuary after the spill in February, though wildlife experts were able to clean up the contaminated birds and release them back into the wild again.

More than 2,000 gallons of recycled fuel oil – one tenth of the oil handled by the port each year – escaped into the harbour when a mild steel pipe at the oil jetty broke.

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The site is internationally protected for its importance as a wildlife habitat.

A spokesman for the Ipswich-based Environment Agency inquiry team said it was hoped the investigation would be complete by Christmas.

He said: "The investigation is still ongoing – we did some work on it last week and will be doing some more this week.

"Investigations of this kind do take time. We have done a series of lab tests on the materials involved and a number of interviews have taken place.

"Like an inquiry in a criminal case these things have to be brought together in a certain way and we hope to form a view as to whether there is a case to answer in the New Year."

Once the inquiry is complete, a report will be submitted to the agency's legal team, which will decide what action to take.

The Port of Felixstowe has pledged to carry out a full review of how oil cargoes are handled and emergency clear-ups are undertaken once the Environment Agency investigations and its own internal inquiry into the spill are complete.

It will work with the Haven Oil Working Group to ensure any lessons to help improve future response are acted upon.

The pumping operation was being monitored by one FTD employee, and a crew member on the ship Pegasus, which was discharging the oil. About one-third of the oil slick was recovered by the emergency operation.

A contingency operation was mounted by Harwich Haven Authority to clear up the spill.

The cost of the spill and the clean-up operation is not known and is in the hands of the Felixstowe Tank Development's insurers.

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