Six figure price of oil leak

BOSSES at Ipswich port today spoke of their delight after a shipping company and its master was ordered to pay more than £100,000 in fines and costs after a major pollution incident last year.

BOSSES at Ipswich port today spoke of their delight after a shipping company and its master was ordered to pay more than £100,000 in fines and costs after a major pollution incident last year.

Port manager Rob Smith said the fine was substantial and would send out a message to other shipping operators after last year's incident.

He said: “The magistrates' verdict was welcomed by ABP. The successful prosecution of the owners and master of the vessel demonstrates that ABP will not hesitate to take action in accordance with our responsibilities, and illustrates our commitment - as Statutory Harbour Authority for Ipswich - to maintain the environmental quality of our waterways.”

Prosecutor Ian Lawrie, for Associated British Ports, told South East Suffolk Magistrates that about 1.5 tonnes of heavy fuel oil spilled into the river.

It was spotted by port pilot Robert Stevens during the early hours of the morning, and he alerted the deputy harbour master who was on duty at the time.

Mr Lawrie said there are three levels of pollution incident - and this was classified as a level two incident because specialist help from outside the port was needed to clear it up.

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As soon as the extent of the pollution was realised, help was called in from Harwich and the Haven Hornbill pollution-fighting vessel was sent up the river.

Harbourmaster John Wooley told the court that the slick had extended over about four miles of the River Orwell, and oily deposits took about three to four weeks to be fully broken up and dispersed.

Officials from the port quickly identified the vessel responsible, and when they went on board at about 6am they found the deck had been cleaned and looked spotless.

However no one from the vessel had reported the leak to the harbour authorities.

The clear-up operation cost £35,000. The port authorities were not claiming compensation through the magistrates' court because they would be pursuing a civil claim.

The pollution incident affected a number of swans which had to be taken to the East Winch wildlife centre in North Norfolk to be cleaned. They were eventually brought back to Ipswich once they had recovered.

Mr Lawrie said: “This was a significant pollution incident although there was thankfully no long-term damage to the environment as a result of the swift action by those involved in the clean-up operation.”

Speaking after the case, Mr Smith said that the incident had shown that the port's pollution plan had worked.

He said: “The pollution plan was immediately put into effect, we called in the RSPCA immediately to deal with the swans, and the staff from the port and from Harwich combined to deal with the pollution very quickly.

“The RSPCA didn't lose a single swan and thanks to the success of the plan there was no long-term damage to the area.”

EDMUND Broadbent, representing the owners and master of the vessel, said the accident had happened when members of the crew were transferring heavy fuel oil from one tank to another.

They had not followed strict safety procedures and as a result tried to fill a tank which was already full, resulting in the oil overflowing over the deck and down the sides of the vessel into the port.

By the time the crew knew what was happening the authorities had already been informed, so there was no point in their repeating the information.

As a result of an internal investigation by the company, all the crew involved in the oiling operation had been dismissed, as had the chief engineer.

The master had been asleep in his cabin and did not know about the incident until he was woken up at 7am.

He is retired, but continues to work for the company on a part-time basis and this has not changed as a result of the pollution incident.