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Seas and Oceans: Pollution

Volume 494: debated on Monday 22 June 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on what occasions monitoring of (a) fish stocks and (b) other marine wildlife has been instigated following the loss of a harmful cargo into the sea in UK waters since 1985; and what the (i) nature of the cargo, (ii) period of monitoring and (iii) results of that monitoring were in each case. (281611)

The role of DEFRA and the Marine and Fisheries Agency in responding to marine pollution emergencies is described in the National Contingency Plan for Marine Pollution from Shipping and Offshore Installations, which is maintained by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Responses to maritime incidents need to be proportionate. Regional or national responses to maritime incidents involve the establishment of an Environment Group, which advises on environmental impacts and may initiate the collection of real time environmental data. If a marine pollution incident is expected to have a significant impact on the marine environment or the shoreline, arrangements are made to monitor and assess the impact in the longer term.

On 20 January 2007, the MSC Napoli was beached in Lyme Bay. The vessel was loaded with 2,318 containers (159 of which were classified as ‘International Maritime Dangerous Goods’) and approximately 3,500 tonnes of Intermediate Fuel Oil and 152 tonnes of Marine Diesel Oil on board. It is estimated that approximately 302 tonnes of oil leaked out of the vessel and dispersant was used to disperse the oil. The proportion of containers that went overboard and the proportion of oil spilled was relatively small. The Environment Agency augmented their routine water quality monitoring programme both by adding additional stations to improve the data coverage and by implementing a screening procedure for chemicals in the water. In addition, DEFRA funded the Plymouth Marine Laboratory to undertake a survey of the waters across Lyme Bay to assess the levels of hydrocarbon contamination in subsurface waters and the surface microlayer. CEFAS and the Marine and Fisheries Agency also instigated a programme of sampling commercial shellfish (crabs, scallops and mussels). Natural England organised necropsies of a proportion of the oiled seabirds and organised two benthic surveys looking at the effect on the benthos (including the pink sea fans). Apart from the birds that died there has been no measured long term effect on the marine environment. Full details can be found at:

On 1 February 2006, the MV Ece, laden with 10,000 tonnes of phosphoric acid, sank following a collision with another vessel approximately 30 miles northwest of Guernsey. Phosphoric acid (phosphate) is an essential nutrient for phytoplankton (microscopic marine algae on which the entire marine food chain relies). Release of “additional” phosphate into the sea may intensify blooms of toxic phytoplankton species and/or lead to oxygen loss from the seawater, both of which are lethal to marine organisms. As there was the possibility of a potential spill from the vessel, a research study was carried out to evaluate the “Ferrybox” as an appropriate monitoring system for the marine environment using the wreck of the MV Ece as a test case. One of the samples taken contained a concentration higher than background levels, demonstrating that this system of monitoring was capable of identifying phosphate leakage from the wreck. Full details of the report can be found at: ME3208_3714_FRP.pdf

On 3 September 2005, MV Anglian Sovereign (Coastguard ETV) hit rocks close to the entrance to Scalloway Harbour in Shetland. It had 84 tonnes of gas oil on board plus the usual hydraulic and lubricating oils. A good deal of oil was lost to the sea but much of the rest was recovered by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency response. Monitoring was undertaken for a number of months when it was found that farmed salmon and wild shellfish in the area was contaminated.

On 29 June 2003, the Jambo, carrying 3,300 tonnes of sphalerite ore ran aground on rocks off the Summer Isles North West of Ullapool. Sphalerite is mainly composed of zinc sulphide and contains traces of other metals such as lead, cadmium and arsenic. Monitoring included testing water, sediments and shellfish for zinc, toxicity testing and measuring the solubility of metallic elements in the sphalerite ore. It showed that measured levels of zinc in the water were mostly very low. Toxic impacts of zinc to water column animals are therefore considered very unlikely. Measured levels of zinc in sediments are very low except in the immediate vicinity of the wreck (-100 metres) so toxic and smothering impacts to benthic (seabed) animals are therefore expected to be similarly localised. There is no evidence to suggest that the discharged cargo from the Jambo has resulted in persistent elevated levels of zinc, cadmium or arsenic in scallop or crab tissues. It is concluded that eating shellfish from the area around the Jambo incident does not raise any food safety concerns for consumers. The final report of the Jambo Environment Group to the Secretary of State’s representative was published in July 2004 and can be obtained from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency at:

On 31 October 2000, the levoli Sun was abandoned and later sunk approximately 11 miles North West of Alderney. The vessel carried a mixed cargo of 4,000 tonnes styrene, 1,000 tonnes methyl ethyl ketone and 1,000 tonnes isopropyl alcohol. More than 1,000 tonnes styrene was lost to sea during the incident. Analysis of edible tissues from crabs recovered one week later from pots laid very close to the wreck prior to the incident demonstrated only low-level styrene contamination that posed no risk to humans. The remainder of the styrene and the ship’s main bunker fuel were recovered from the wreck on the seabed. Full details are provided in R.J. Law, C. Kelly, P. Matthiessen and J. Aldridge (2003) The loss of the chemical tanker levoli Sun in the English Channel, October 2000. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 46: 254-257.

In February 1996 the Sea Empress ran aground in the entrance to Milford Haven releasing more than 72,000 tonnes of oil. Monitoring of affected wildlife began almost immediately and was mostly completed by 19981. Some studies continued in subsequent years and a number of reports and scientific papers have been published in the 10 years following the spill. The long term effects of the spill were evaluated in a report published in 20062. In addition, a review of the ecological effects of the clean up following the spill was published in 20063. The studies found that almost all known impacts to marine wildlife and marine and coastal habitats from the Sea Empress oil spill had disappeared within five years.

On 5 January 1993, MV Braer, an oil tanker, ran aground at the southern tip of Shetland, releasing around 85,000 tonnes of oil. Monitoring began immediately and monitoring for some direct effects continued for around a year. Background monitoring that could be used to assess some effects started in the 1970s and have continued to the present. In general, very few effects other than immediate ones were found, probably due to light and easily dispersible nature of the oil spilled4,5. It took one species of seabird one to five years to recover to pre-spill levels6, and others may have taken longer.

1 SEEEC, 1998. The Environmental Impact of the Sea Empress Oil Spill. Final Report of the Sea Empress Environmental Evaluation Committee. London: The Stationery Office. ISBN: 0 11 702156 3.

2 Moore, J.J. 2006. State of the Marine Environment in South West Wales, 10 years after the Sea Empress Oil Spill. A report to the Countryside Council for Wales from Coastal Assessment, Liaison and Monitoring, Cosheston, Pembrokeshire. CCW Monitoring report No 21. 30pp.

3 Little, A.E., Moore, J.J. and Dyrynda P.E.J. 2006. Ecological Impacts of Shoreline Clean-up during the Sea Empress Oil Spill. A Report to the Countryside Council for Wales by Cordah Ltd. 131pp.

4 Ritchie, W. And O’Sullivan, M (eds.) 1994. The Environmental impact of the wreck of the Braer. Scottish Office, Edinburgh. 207pp.

5 Davies, J.M. and Topping, G. (eds) 1997. The impact of an oil spill in turbulent waters: the Braer. Scottish Office, Edinburgh.

6 Heubeck, M. 2000. Population trends of kittiwake Rissa tridactyla, black guillemot Cepphus grylle and common guillemot Uria aalge. Atlantic Seabirds 1: 43-47.