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1993: Oil tanker runs aground off Shetland

VIDEO : Crew rescued from stricken tanker

A tanker carrying 85,000 tonnes of crude oil has run aground in hurricane force winds off the Shetland Islands.

The captain and crew of the vessel were airlifted to safety by helicopter when it became clear the disaster was imminent.

The Liberian-registered MV Braer tanker was on its way from Norway to Canada when it lost power in Force 11 gales early this morning.

It ran aground on rocks in Quendale Bay, just west of Sunburgh Head, on the south tip of Shetland, just before midday, despite desperate efforts by salvage teams to prevent a collision.


"Virtually impossible to avert a major ecological catastrophe"

Paul Horsman, Greenpeace

Early reports suggest oil is already pouring from the ruptured tanks on the vessel.

The Shetland Islands Council has activated its major disaster plan in an attempt to avert a major environmental catastrophe in the area, which is internationally renowned for seabirds and marine life.

But Greenpeace spokesperson Paul Horsman said it would be "virtually impossible to avert a major ecological catastrophe."

The 800-foot vessel was built in Japan in 1975 and does not have the more modern double hull which would lessen the chance of an oil-spillage.

Local people in Shetland have long-expected an accident on their remote shores and contingency plans to deal with the environmental impact of such a disaster are in place.

But a catastrophe on this scale was never predicted. The Braer was carrying twice as much crude oil as the Exxon Valdez, which ran aground off Alaska four years ago.

The Shipping Minister Lord Caithness has ordered a wide-ranging inquiry into the disaster.

In Context
A total of 84,700 tonnes of crude oil spilled into the North Sea after the MV Braer ran aground, causing huge damage.

A report into the disaster, published in 1994, said bad weather was largely to blame for the accident.

But it also condemned the actions of the ship's captain, Alexandros Gelis, who, it said, demonstrated a fundamental lack of basic seamanship.

By October 1995 a total of 45m had been paid out in compensation but a moratorium on payments was then imposed as the International Oil Pollution Fund neared its limit of 50m.

In April 2001, Jim Wallace, Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland called for the inquiry into the disaster to be re-opened amid claims the ship had been unfit to sail.


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