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Monday, 15 July, 2002, 14:00 GMT 15:00 UK
Oil operation at sunken battleship
Royal Oak
Oil is seeping from the sunken battleship
Work has begun in Orkney to remove the majority of oil from the sunken battleship Royal Oak.

Divers are to breach the hull of the wreck and pump out the oil from some of the warship's tanks.

It is hoped the operation, which will last eight weeks, will finally remove the threat of a major pollution incident in Scapa Flow.

The Royal Oak was torpedoed by a German U-boat at Scapa Flow on 14 October 1939 with the loss of 833 lives.


Some of us can still remember the war years in Orkney and the Royal Oak is very important to us

Hugh Halcro-Johnston
Orkney Islands Council

It was one of the darkest chapters in the history of the Royal Navy and ever since then oil has been seeping from the wreck.

Over the past five years the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has tried several attempts to contain the flow, including attaching steel patches to the hull and fixing a canopy to catch the oil.

So far, those attempts have failed to yield success.

Safety risks

However, last year divers pierced the fuel tanks within the ship and pumped out about 150 tonnes oil through valves attached to the hull.

MoD official Paul Brokensha said he hoped the operation would complete the work started last year.

"This year we will tackle the oil in the tanks and expect to get out about 300 tonnes," he said.

"Divers will go down and put valves on the wreck which will allow us to attach a hose and pump oil out of the wreck."

Royal Oak
More than 800 crew lost their lives

There was a strategy to avoid the munitions surrounding the vessel to minimise any safety risks in the operation, he added.

Hugh Halcro-Johnston, convener of Orkney Islands Council, said he was pleased to see the "final phase of a somewhat protracted project".

The ship is an official maritime war grave protected by the council.

"Some of us can still remember the war years in Orkney and the Royal Oak is very important to us," he said.

"We are acutely aware of the sensitivities and hopefully with the removal of the oil leak, the war grave and the ship can rest in peace."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
John Johnston reports
"The MoD has made several attempts to contain the oil"
BBC Scotland's John Johnston reports
"It is hoped the Royal Oak will be remembered as a war grave and not a pollution threat"
See also:

15 Jun 01 | Scotland
19 Feb 01 | Scotland
14 Feb 01 | Scotland
14 Oct 00 | Scotland
13 Oct 00 | Scotland
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