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Tuesday, 8 October, 2002, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK
Q&A: Tackling oil spills
David Salt, Technical Director of Oil Spill Response Limited, based in Southampton, UK, and Singapore, explains to BBC News Online the procedures after a situation such as the explosion in an oil tanker off the coast of Yemen.

How big is the oil spill?

An initial assessment has been done of the ship and rough estimates suggest that 700 tonnes of oil may be out there.

It's about 5,000 barrels. This means it's quite a small spill. It is very minor in comparison to the French oil spill (in December 1999), which was 16,000 tonnes or the Sea Empress spill (off Wales in 1996) which was 72,000 tonnes.

How big a problem is this?

Most of the oil is likely to affect the shoreline and some already has.

It's fair to say that there will be a shoreline clean-up operation to be done. But this is a pretty straight-forward operation: low-tech, manual labour organising, shovels and plastic bags.

This size of spill is not going to have a massive effect on the environment.

The oil is a heavy Arabian crude so it will be quite viscous. It will be persistent so mechanical recovery will be the best solution.

It coats the shoreline. It gets brought in by the wind and tide and must be removed. But it won't pose a long term threat to wildlife or the environment.

As for the short-term threat, birds which dive or swim through the oil will be covered. But this size of spill is not going to have a massive effect on the environment.

How much oil was on board?

The only indication I have had was that the vessel was part loaded. There are reports, although not confirmed, that there were 350,000 barrels of oil on board.

The ship is a very large crude carrier. The size really doesn't have a great deal to do with the size of the spill in this particular instance.

It is part of a cargo tank which has been lost. Tankers have subdivisions within them to try and limit any loss. The spill certainly could have been a lot worse.

There's no question that if the ship had been lost the problem would have a much larger. They were fortunate the loss was so small.

What help is your organisation providing?

We've sent two of our staff over there. They have been assessing the situation and working out how to respond.

I don't how long they will be there but certainly for 2-3 days more, working with representatives from the ship and insurers.

Ultimately, the Yemeni Government will be managing the oil spill but our staff will be providing technical assistance.

See also:

06 Oct 02 | Middle East
21 Sep 02 | Middle East
05 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
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