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MV Sea Empress 1996

On 15 February 1996, the Sea Empress, a single hull oil tanker carrying 130,000 tonnes of North Sea crude oil was pushed onto rocks by a strong current when entering Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire. With tugs and oil removal equipment unable to reach the stricken vessel due to poor weather, approximately 72,000 tonnes of oil spilt from the breached hull over the first few days, polluting over 120 miles of coastline.

Around 440 tonnes of dispersants were used on oil moving out into the Bristol Channel, but dispersant spraying was not permitted within Milford Haven due to the sensitive nearshore ecosystem.

Despite the best efforts of responders, thousands of seabirds were oiled, and while many were cleaned by the RSPCA few survived longer than a few weeks. Many shellfish beds were heavily affected, leading to a ban on fishing which was lifted in stages

The Sea Empress incident demonstrated how far the UK response capacity had come since the Torrey Canyon, but also the limitations in dealing with an incident of such a massive scale, and in such poor conditions.

Sea Empress spill