Worst Oil Slick since Sea Empress Could Hit Wales

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Byline: Ben Glaze and Brian Hutton

THE biggest oil slick to threaten Welsh and Irish shores for more than 10 years was being tracked last night.

The spill, near to where a Russian warship was refuelling in the Celtic Sea, is now believed to be 1,000 tonnes - more than three times the original estimate - and could reach Welsh and Irish shores in just over two weeks.

The incident in Irish-patrolled waters has sparked a flurry of diplomatic contact between Britain, Ireland and Russia.

Environmentalists said it has the potential to devastate marine wildlife, with knock-on effects on seaside tourism and fishing hot spots. Friends of the Earth Cymru director Gordon James said last night: "Any oil spill poses a threat and everything that can be done to minimise the damage ought to be done as soon as possible."

He said lessons learned from the 1996 Sea Empress disaster should be implemented to reduce the chance of major harm to the Welsh coast. When the Sea Empress ran aground off Milford Haven, shedding 72,000 tonnes, it caused widespread damage.

"They learned a lot about dispersing oil, clearing it up and containing it, so I hope they put all that into practice," said Mr James.

"This is an extremely important part of the world for its marine wildlife so everything should be done to ensure the impact of this spill is minimised."

He said wildlife took years to recover from the Sea Empress grounding, but added: "We were lucky then because we had winds blow the oil out to sea rather than onshore and there were strong waves to break up the slick."

A Russian destroyer, a British destroyer, an Irish Naval vessel andaRussian aircraft carrier are at the scene of the spill about 50 miles south of Fastnet Rock, off the west Cork coast, along with a tug and two refuelling tankers. …