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Sunday, 15 April, 2001, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
Call for new Braer inquiry
Braer tanker
The Braer spilled thousands of tonnes of oil
The Scottish deputy first minister has called for an inquiry into the Braer tanker disaster to be reopened amid claims the ship was unfit to set sail.

Jim Wallace wants claims that the vessel should not have left Norway at the start of its final voyage investigated.

The Sunday Herald newspaper said the ship's captain, Alexandros Gelis, who was heavily criticised in the report into the disaster, was not told about the tanker's condition.

The Braer ran aground off the coast of the Shetland isles on 5 January, 1993, spilling 84,700 tonnes of crude oil into the North Sea and causing huge damage.

Jim Wallace
Jim Wallace: Wants the inquiry reopened
On Tuesday, Mr Wallace used a House of Commons address to call for the government to ensure that 3.7m in unpaid compensation claims arising from the disaster were settled.

The 1994 report into the accident said bad weather was largely to blame for the accident.

But it also condemned the actions of Mr Gelis, claiming: "He did nothing, demonstrating a fundamental lack of basic seamanship."

However the captain told the paper: "It (the weather) was so bad the pilot didn't get off at the usual pilot station.

"He left early on the tug and gave me the course to steer.

"There were green seas on the main deck every 10 seconds or so."

He also said he had been kept ignorant of the state of the boilers, which are said to have had badly corroded tubes, and that the water supply to the boiler feed was contaminated.

Alexandros Gelis
Alexandros Gelis was largely blamed for the disaster
Mr Gelis claimed he had never been given the chance to refute the findings of the inquiry, which largely accepted the version of events given by the ship's owners, Bergvall and Hudner.

Mr Wallace, who is Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland, said: "I will seek an assurance that the Chief Inspector of the Marine Accident Investigation Branch will review the previous findings in the light of this new information."

Mr Wallace, who is to stand down as an MP at the general election to concentrate on his role as MSP for Orkney, raised the issue during what could be his last speech in the Commons.

He told MPs that outstanding claims for compensation by residents in Shetland had still not been resolved and that the fund set up to compensate victims of pollution had adopted an "unduly legalistic approach" to settlement.

Oil soaked birds
Many animals suffered in the disaster
Although 45m had been paid out in compensation by October 1995, settling 2,000 claims, a moratorium was then imposed on payments as the International Oil Pollution Fund neared its limit of 50m.

An estimated 3.7m of claims have still not been settled, but only 2.4m is still available for further payouts.

Mr Wallace claimed many families whose properties were affected had had to endure long court battles and called for the government to help offset legal bills.

He received more than 3,000 from the fund for damage to the roof of his own Shetland cottage, which stands half a mile from the scene of the accident.

He said: "In the House we regularly pay lip service to the adage that the polluter must pay. It is intolerable that the victims of pollution should pay.

"It would be unfair if huge expenses were landed on the doorsteps of those who had the oil land on their doorstep.

"There is a huge sense of grievance and injustice. There is a belief, too, that a compensation fund should do just that: compensate."

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