Pollution experts are working with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to deal with an oil slick which has appeared 12 nautical miles off the Kent coast.
Possible causes are being investigated but at the moment the focus is on tackling the impact of any oil that comes ashore.
The MCA continues to update its modelling to assess where any oil might come ashore – the first could come in later today across the east Kent coast in the area of Deal. There are concerns it could also impact Thanet.
The first report of the oil slick – which County Councillor Karen Constantine says was described in a briefing as ‘significant’ in size – was made to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency by a Royal Navy vessel. Further investigations were then carried out to establish what the substance was and how much there was.
The MCA says all indications are that this slick is the only oil and it is not a continuous stream.
Investigations are being carried out to find the source and these are ongoing. There does not appear to be any subsea infrastructure which would point to a pipeline release.
A spokesperson for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said: “We have already mobilised our oil spill response contractor to do all we can to deal with the consequences from this spill. Those contractors are working to remove pollutants and minimise any potential pollutants coming to shore.
“We continue to monitor the situation through regular surveillance flights across the area and will update our ongoing response plan in response to that information. As well as this, we are working with local partners to ensure a coordinated response.
“Samples of the oil will be collected for testing to see if the source can be identified.”
The oil response contractor is understood to be specialist firm Ambipar. The firm’s rapid Marine Response service contains, minimises, and repairs environmental damage caused by oil spills of all sizes in UK ports and harbours.
Central Harbour Councillor Becky Wing said Thanet council has sent information to ward councillors in Central Harbour and Cliffsend areas as those beaches could be affected.
She added: “The MCA is thankfully leading the clean-up and then the investigation, which I hope will be made public. With one of the busiest shipping lanes off our coast I have long been concerned, as have the local Green Party, that oil spills and other incidents, including ‘bunkering’; the ship-to-ship transfer of oil at sea, all put our coastline and marine environment and wildlife at risk.
“Add this to the numerous discharges of sewage by Southern Water into our sea which also ends up all over our beaches and you have to ask, how much has this actually cost our local economy, our environment and Thanet District Council when resources have to be found and diverted to clear pollution created by others.
“As a local and regular beach user and sea swimmer I find it hard to accept and understand why those responsible for these incidents think so little of our shared sea, coast and much protected marine environment, why is it that those responsible did not report this?
“ I hope those responsible are found and dealt with accordingly, it’s just a shame that this never seems to involve appropriate compensation for the areas affected. All we can do now is hope and pray that the clean-up operation is successful in reducing the potential impact to our marine environment and that all agencies have been made aware should there be a need to clear beaches and treat any wildlife affected, including our marine birds and seals.”
According to Kent County Councillor Barry Lewis the authority’s infrastructure team anticipate oil hitting the coast along Deal at around 10.45pm tonight and have enough vessels on route to cope with approximately 30% of the spill.
Cllr Lewis said in the briefing members were told that it is possible some water events, such as sailing and open water swimming, could be affected and KCC’s environmental team is looking at public health indicators.
Fellow County Councillor Karen Constantine said the slick has been described as ‘significant.’
KCC does have a Shoreline Emergency Pollution Plan and Cllr Constantine said members have been told everyone is in place for that and district councils are on standby for ‘wherever and whenever it hits the coastline.’
Some of the oil has been dispersed while on the water through a process similar to skimming. Volunteers will not be asked to help because of concerns over Avian Flu, Cllr Constantine said, and it is likely any areas affected by incoming oil will be taped off.
Cllr Constantine added: “We will need to take a forensic look at how this has happened and take all the steps we can to make sure all ecology is protected.”
She added that if there was anything the community could do to help she would help organise that.
The east Kent coast is home to seal colonies and there is concern for the welfare of the seal population and other wildlife should the spill not be contained. The oil can affect seals’ insulation abilities and they risk succumbing to hypothermia should they be covered in the oil.
Kent Wildlife Trust Marine Conservation Officer Sherece Thompson said: “This is an alarming incident which has happened during National Marine Week – a time where we highlight the importance and fragility of marine wildlife.
‘We are working with our partners to monitor the situation and would ask anyone who may be concerned about the incident to join us as we undertake a beach clean in partnership with Shepherd Neame on Sunday. As a community, we need to do what we can do protect the fragile marine ecosystem and allow it to flourish.”
Three beach cleans will be undertaken (unless Public Health make changes due to the Avian Flu concerns)
The Botany Bay, Kingsdown – Sunday, 31st July
The Marine, Tankerton – Sunday, 7th August
The Royal Albion, Broadstairs – Sunday, 14th August
To sign up to take part, send your contact details, including email address, a contact number on the day, and ages of any children being accompanied to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than a week before the date you wish to take part in.