Sunken cargo ship raises pollution fears

Maritime and coastal authorities were on high alert last week after oil leaked from a cargo vessel that sank in the English Channel during rough weather.

The Greek-registered Ice Prince, which was en route to Alexandria carrying more than 5,000 metric tonnes of sawn timber, made an emergency call to the coastguard on the evening of January 13 after getting into difficulties 27 miles off the Devon coast.

All 20 crew, including one Greek crewmember with a broken leg, had to be airlifted off the 328-foot vessel on Monday as force 8 winds battered the ship.

It eventually sank 26 miles off the coast of Portland Bill, Dorset, in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

The Ice Prince had been carrying an estimated 313 metric tons of intermediate fuel oil and other lubricating oils in the engine spaces.

The Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCGA), which is responsible for responding to pollution from shipping, despatched aerial surveillance aircraft on Tuesday to assess the extent of oil dispersed from the ship and debris from the cargo.

Government minister Hugh Shaw, representatives from the Environment Group, police, local authorities, the owners and salvors met on Wednesday to discuss how to minimise the impact of the loss of cargo or oil from the sunken ship.

A statement released by the MCGA last week said: “There have been reports of a light sheen of oil on the surface at the wreck site, but this is being broken up by wave energy and natural sea movement.”

On Thursday, the oil spillage had dispersed within three miles of the Ice Prince, as force 8 winds helped to break up the spill.

The owners were developing plans for the recovery of oil and cargo from the wreck, but warned it would be a difficult operation.

The MCGA said on Monday that the oil spill was not believed to have caused any serious environmental problems.

However, hundreds of tonnes of timber from the ship washed up on beaches in Worthing, West Sussex over the weekend.

Kate Martin

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