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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2007, 15:36 GMT
Birds under threat from ship oil
Guillemot
Guillemots have been coming ashore along Chesil Beach
Wildlife workers fear hundreds more birds may be affected by pollution after about 200 oil-covered birds were washed ashore in Dorset.

Nick Tomlinson, of the RSPB, said it was possible four out of five oiled birds did not make the shore after the container ship MSC Napoli ran aground.

The National Trust said "hundreds of sea birds have been seen on the beach struggling" at Burton Bradstock.

Workers also said five dead dolphins have also washed up on the coast.

Golden Cap
Large containers have washed up onto the shore near Golden Cap

The RSPB said most of the oiled birds were guillemots, which had started to return to cliff ledges around Portland where they breed over the spring and summer.

Oil spilling from the MSC Napoli's fuel tank into waters around the Jurassic Coast World Heritage site had been a concern for wildlife workers.

It was run aground following reports of structural failure on Thursday.

In a statement, the National Trust said it was "extremely concerned by the environmental damage being caused to the coastline the charity owns in West Dorset at Golden Cap and the beach at Burton Bradstock".

"It may take weeks to clear up the beach and many months for all the cargo from the ship to come ashore," the trust added.

'Environmental disaster'

Mr Tomlinson said: "There was reported something in the order of 200 guillemots off Portland Bill yesterday.

"We're a little bit concerned as to whether that's the thin end of the wedge.

"We don't know what the situation is there yet this morning and it's really too early to say - there are some suggestions that something like four out of five birds that get oiled don't actually make it ashore."

Burton Bradstock
Burton Bradstock is littered with oily packages

Steve Trewhella, of British Divers Marine Life Rescue, described the events as an "environmental disaster not seen in the UK for some time" and said Portland was covered in dead or stricken sea birds.

The Dorset Health Protection Unit said that containers carrying industrial chemicals had started to wash up on beaches and warned that these were not only dangerous to wildlife.

A spokesperson said: "People should not approach washed up containers and pets should be kept away from affected beaches."

Portland Coastguard said they have resumed work to pump 3,500 tonnes of oil off the MSC Napoli.

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