5. The Clean-up Operations

5.1 The Clean-up Operations on Land and at Sea

The enormous clean-up that was necessary on land and at sea involved a huge number of people and organisations. It was reported that almost 900 people took part in cleaning up the shoreline at a certain time. Milford Haven had its own oil spill contingency plan and the Dyfed County Council was responsible for the areas outside the Haven. The MPCU (Marine Pollution Control Unit) handled the operation at sea, whereas the JRC (Joint Response Centre) was in charge of cleaning up the shoreline. This centre has its office within the Port Authority building and consists of a technical team and an environment team, involving a large number of different organisations.26

The first five days after the disaster, the oil was recovered as much as possible from the sea surface by two small vessels belonging to the Milford Haven Port Authority. On February 21, larger recovery vessels were put into action, which were able to recover about 30 times as much oil. Two French and two Dutch ships supported the recovery of oil outside the Haven. The oil in shallow waters, however, could not be recovered by these boats, so local fishing boats using booms were put into action to drag out the emulsion to where the water was deep enough for the recovery vessels to operate again.27

The use of dispersants at sea was the subject of much discussion. The movements of the wind and the waves are able to disperse oil in a natural way, but chemical dispersants, although diminishing the harm done to the beaches and coastline in general and to wildlife on the sea surface, are a danger to life below the surface. They break up the oil into small droplets, so that it cannot affect the beaches and shoreline to such a high degree, as it remains in a much less concentrated form.28 For this reason 445 tonnes of dispersants were sprayed from aircraft onto the oily sea surface, in addition to 8 tonnes of demulsifiers that were considered necessary to separate the oil from the water beforehand and so destabilise the emulsion.29 There are still different opinions as to whether this use of chemicals has done more harm than good in the end, as it meant even more toxic pollution of the sea water and the use of the demulsifiers was not very successful.

On the shoreline, the beaches were in a terrible state. First of all people tried to clear them from the worst oil pollution and it was really amazing how many volunteers helped. The beaches were full of people shovelling away oil.

Other methods of removing the oil from the beaches were the use of gully suckers, that were able to collect the oil layer on the surface, or low pressure flushing. Shingle beaches were either cleaned by taking the pebbles into areas where they could be washed by surf in a natural way. Or they were cleaned from oil in special concrete mixers. Booms in the water were also used to keep the oil from reaching the shore, but this was not always successful. A few beaches were left untouched, as it was believed that they might be able to recover naturally.30


26 cf. SEEEC Report, p. 8 (3.4.1)
27 cf. SEEEC Report, p.8 (3.4.2)
28 cf. SEEEC Report, p.8 (3.4.3)
29 cf. SEEEC Report, p. 10 (3.4.3)
30 cf. SEEEC Report, p. 10 (3.4.4)

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