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Braer: The huge oil spill that Shetland survived

From BBC - January 5, 2018

Twenty five years ago the Braer oil tanker ran aground off the Shetland Isles in hurricane-force winds, spilling almost 85,000 tonnes of crude oil.

The captain and crew of the vessel were airlifted to safety by helicopter after its engines failed and it became clear the disaster was imminent.

It hit rocks in Quendale Bay, just west of Sumburgh Head, on the south tip of Shetland, just before midday on 5 January 1993.

According to WWF Scotland, at least 1,500 birds died and up to a quarter of the local grey seal population was affected.

But the weather limited the full extent of the damage as much of the oil was swept out to sea.

The Gulfaks crude that the Braer was carrying was also lighter and more easily biodegradable than other North Sea crudes.

Jonathan Wills, a Shetland journalist who researched the disaster, told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme that everyone was "horrified" because The Braer was carrying twice as much crude oil as the Exxon Valdez, which had run aground off Alaska four years earlier.

The Alaskan oil spill had caused a devastating environmental disaster.

Mr Wills says: "We were expecting the worst but it did not really happen. The wind blew the oil away."

The first sign the Braer was in danger had come at 05:19 when the coastguard was told the tanker, which was travelling between Norway and Canada, had lost power in a storm 10 miles south of Shetland.

The situation quickly deteriorated and by 09:00 fears were raised that the Braer would run aground near Horse Holm, an island near Sumburgh Head.

Instead, the current carried the ship into Quendale Bay where it foundered and breached, spilling 84,700 tonnes of oil into the sea.

The 800ft vessel had been built in Japan in 1975 and did not have the more modern double hull which would have lessened the chance of an oil-spillage.

There were major inquiries, including one by Lord Donaldson, which looked at the disaster and how it could be avoided in future.

Mr Wills says mistakes were made, such as moving all the crew off the ship and not letting them back when it had missed the rocks to take a line from the newly-arrived salvage tug.

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