Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Shetland Oil Spill 14 Years Ago vs. Today's Disaster

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Shetland Oil Spill 14 Years Ago vs. Today's Disaster

Article excerpt

IT has not been mentioned much in the media coverage of the Braer disaster, but Shetland already had an oil spill. It occurred at the then brand-new oil terminal at Sullom Voe in 1978-79. The most lucrative industry on Shetland is oil: The Sullom Voe port services some of the North Sea oil fields.

Retired headmaster Louis Johnson, who lives on Yell, the second largest of Shetland's islands, north of Mainland, remembers the "treacly" oil escaping into Yell Sound from this spill and plastering coastlines. "The bird life suffered terribly. Well up on 4,000 corpses were recovered. According to some estimates, there may have been double that number of casualties," he says.

Pete Ellis, Shetland officer for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, thinks that the 1,500 known bird fatalities after the Braer represent "only 20 percent of what was killed." He believes that, owing to the extreme weather conditions last month, a far smaller number of dead birds were found than after the earlier spill, which was "in a much more enclosed area." At that time, he says, "they recovered a lot of the oiled birds."

The earlier spill resulted in what writer Jonathan Wills commends as "the best tanker-safety scheme in the world. …

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