Wildlife experts to take no chances

BIRDS left soaked in oil after the pollution disaster at Felixstowe port will not be released back into the wild until experts are sure the shores are clean.

BIRDS left soaked in oil after the pollution disaster at Felixstowe port will not be released back into the wild until experts are sure the shores are clean.

Dozens of mute swans were coated in sticky recycled fuel oil after 2,000 gallons escaped from a split steel pipe into the harbour.

Wildlife experts have been carefully recovering as many birds as they can from the Trimley Marshes, banks of the River Orwell and the Essex backwaters.

These have been the lucky ones which have been taken to the RSPCA's animal hospital at East Winch, near King's Lynn, in Norfolk, where they have been cleaned up, fed and looked after.

Others will not be so lucky. Many birds are expected to die at sea, digesting oil while trying to clean themselves, or simply too oiled to find food or fly.

A spokeswoman for the East Winch centre said: "We have had a number of swans brought to us and they have all been cleaned immediately.

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"The oil was starting to burn the birds and it was essential that we acted as quickly as they could.

"They are looking great now and are feeding and are ready to go back into the wild, but we will keep them here until the Environment Agency says that it is safe to release them.

"We need to know the areas where the birds will go are clean otherwise they will just get covered in oil again."

Inspections are still being carried out on the shores and beaches and deposits of oil are still being found, though experts say the tides have broken up most of the remains of the slick.

The Environment Agency is carrying out an investigation into the spill, which happened when a pipe split in a pipe at the Felixstowe oil jetty, operated by Felixstowe Tank Developments Ltd, as the vessel Pegasus was discharging oil.

An emergency operation was put into action immediately and booms and suction pumps were used to contain and collect 600 gallons of the oil.

Port and harbour officials have promised a full review of the procedures for handling oil cargoes and of the clean-up operations once investigations into the spillage are complete.

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