A cargo vessel which was grounded on Nightingale Island is leaking fuel oil and and cargo of 1500 tonnes of heavy crude oil into the sea.

The RSPB says this could spell disaster for the northern rockhopper penguin; one of the world’s most threatened species of penguin and is a major hazard to the economically-important rock lobster fishery.

Oil now surrounds Nightingale Island and extends in to a slick eight miles offshore from the wreck. Hundreds of oiled penguins have already been seen coming ashore.

There is also a risk of any rats on the vessel colonising the island, potentially placing the island’s internationally-important seabird colonies in jeopardy.

The Tristan Conservation Department has been working to try to avert the impending environmental disaster.

Tristan conservation officer, Trevor Glass, said: “The scene at Nightingale is dreadful as there is an oil slick encircling the island.

“The Tristan Conservation Team are doing all they can to clean up the penguins that are currently coming ashore. It is a disaster!”

A salvage tug is currently en-route from Cape Town with an experienced crew and environmental experts but she is not due to arrive at the island until Monday.

The situation is no longer a salvage operation but the Tristan authorities understand that the vessel’s operators and insurers are investigating chartering a second vessel to assist with cleaning up the pollution and oiled seabirds.

RSPB research biologist, Richard Cuthbert, said: “How a modern and fully-laden cargo vessel can sail straight into an island beggars belief.

“The consequences of this wreck could be potentially disastrous for wildlife and the fishery-based economy of these remote islands.

“The Tristan da Cunha islands, especially Nightingale and adjacent Middle Island, hold millions of nesting seabirds as well as four out of every ten of the world population of the globally endangered Northern rockhopper penguin.

“Over 200,000 penguins are currently on the islands and these birds will be heavily impacted by leaking oil.”

Alison Brown

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