3. The Immediate Consequences

3.1 The Contributing Factors

The damage done to the environment was even more serious than in the two previous oil disasters mentioned above. There were many factors that contributed to this. The type of oil carried by the Sea Empress was decisive: It was Forties Blend crude oil that was spilled - a mixture of crude oils that are led into the Forties pipeline in the North Sea. The resulting blend is a light oil, a third of which is supposed to evaporate from the sea surface within the first 24 hours after a spill occurs. This type of oil combines with water very quickly and forms a so-called "mousse" or emulsion (70% water and 30% oil), which has more than three times the volume of pure undiluted oil. The ship lost about 72,000 tonnes of this crude oil, but also 360 tonnes of heavy fuel oil (used to power the ship) were spilled. Although this does not sound like a large amount, it nevertheless had an enormous effect on the environment, as fuel oil is much thicker and stickier. It makes the natural cleaning process and human clean-up operations much more difficult, as it does not disperse very easily and therefore remains in the environment for a very long time.10 In addition, the tide and the weather conditions at the time of the spill are of great importance. When the worst oiling of the shoreline in and around the Haven took place, there was a spring tide of unusually great height. This meant that the water, and therefore also the oil, reached a higher level of land than normal and the following tides were not high enough to play their part in washing the oil away again. The wind, moreover, changed direction several times, so the oil was spread in many different directions.11

10 cf. SEEEC Report, p. 6 (3.3.2)
11 cf. SEEEC Report, p. 7 (3.3.3)

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Last Updated: 29-01-10