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Sunday, 11 November, 2001, 19:20 GMT
Greater fines urged for oil spill pollution
Sea Empress, BBC
The Sea Empress caused an environmental disaster
UK environmental groups are calling for increased fines for ships which dump fuel in the sea.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) told the BBC's Countryfile programme oil spills were happening routinely, killing thousands of birds every year.

The danger of oil pollution to wildlife was highlighted six years ago when the Sea Empress ran aground off the coast of West Wales, following a navigational error by an inexperienced port authority pilot.

More than 70,000 tonnes of light crude oil and 480 tonnes of heavy fuel oil spilled into the sea, polluting around 200 kilometres (125 miles) of coastline recognised internationally for its wildlife and beauty.

The most common casualty was the scoter duck, whose feeding technique of diving just below the surface of Carmarthen Bay led it straight into the middle of some of the worst slicks.

Illegal dumping

Of a population of 15,000 scoters in the area, around 5,000 are estimated to have died.

Milford Haven Port Authority was originally fined 4m after accepting responsibility for the damage which followed the incident.

Sea bird caught in oil slick, BBC
Thousands of birds are dying every year, say the RSPB
This was reduced to 750,000 after the port authority went to the Court of Appeal.

But illegal dumping and small spillages happen around the UK coast several hundred times a year, according to the RSPB.

The organisation is claiming thousands of sea birds are dying annually as a result of such pollution and it wants to see tougher penalties for offenders.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency says a new satellite system is being used to track spillages on the coast and prosecutions of offenders are on the increase.

See also:

07 Jan 00 | Sci/Tech
UK birds hit by French oil spill
11 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
UK moves to protect coastline
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