Port cover-up over chemical spill

EIGHTY drums of a toxic chemical were lost in the water off the Suffolk coast after an accident at a container terminal, it was revealed today.The incident happened two weeks ago, but astonishingly the authorities decided not to tell the public – because they believed there was no risk to anyone.

By Richard Cornwell

EIGHTY drums of a toxic chemical were lost in the water off the Suffolk coast after an accident at a container terminal, it was revealed today.

The incident happened two weeks ago, but astonishingly the authorities decided not to tell the public – because they believed there was no risk to anyone.

Divers are still working in the harbour on the delicate and lengthy operation to recover the missing black drums which have "Hazardous chemical" written on their sides.


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The drums are understood to have been lost when a container fell into the water from a ship alongside Trinity Terminal during unloading operations.

When the box was pulled out, 80 drums of a heavy chemical called Suprasec 2525 – understood to be used to make the foam fillings for furniture – were lost.

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The drums sank to the bottom next to the quayside and divers' observations and chemical experts' advice was that they had sunk into the silt and were unlikely to move.

As there was thought to be no risk of the drums being swept out to sea and ending up on Felixstowe's beaches or moved upriver onto the Orwell's foreshore, details of the incident were not made public.

Today port chiefs confirmed that the accident had happened and that divers were still working to recover the drums.

Paul Davey, corporate affairs manager, said there had been an incident on October 21. Problems began occurring during quayside operations at about 5pm and a container went into the water at 9pm.

"The Coastguard, Environment Agency and Harwich Haven Authority were informed and divers have been salvaging the drums since then," he said.

The port could not give exact details of the incident, or confirm whether the drums were 40-gallon or 55-gallon and how many had been recovered so far.

One portworker who saw the incident said: "They lifted this big container up out of the water and when it was being tipped I saw the 80 drums fall out of it.

"They told us it was not a hazardous chemical. But the black drums have 'hazardous chemical' written on them. Some of the warnings on it say that you have to use gloves and a glass visor to handle it. They are trying to pretend it hasn't happened."

The Health and Safety Executive could not comment yet on whether it was an incident which their inspectors would be required to investigate.

It is not the first time this year that details of an accident at the port have not been made public.

In February, 2,000 gallons of oil escaped into the harbour when a pipe at the oil jetty fractured, affecting dozens of birds and threatening an internationally important wildlife site.

The port told authorities which are required to know by law but no public announcement was made.

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