Official investigations have been launched into an oil spill at a major Ministry of Defence (MoD) fuel depot on Loch Striven in the Firth of Clyde.
Three UK Government agencies are examining an incident on 31 October when at least 1,500 litres of fuel was discharged into the loch from a tanker moored at the MoD jetty.
Environmentalists have warned of possible impacts on seabirds and other wildlife, while politicians have described the spill as “really worrying” and “devastating”. The Royal Navy said that the spill had been contained and cleaned up.
According to the navy, there was a “loss of containment incident” on board the Cumbrian Fisher oil tanker while it was berthed at the MoD depot. The depot is used to refuel Nato warships and classified as a “major accident hazard” because of the large volume of fuel stored there.
“It is estimated that approximately 1,501 litres of fuel was discharged into the water and approximately 48,906 litres of fuel on board the vessel was reclaimed to slops tanks,” a Royal Navy spokesperson told the Dunoon Observer print edition.
“Containment and clean-up of the spill has been completed and the loch will continue to be monitored by various parties.”
The navy said that the tanker had been assisted by the Oil and Pipelines Agency, which runs the Loch Striven, and other depots, for the MoD. Other environmental and maritime authorities were notified.
Now the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA), the MoD’s Defence Accident Investigation Branch and the Royal Navy’s King’s Harbour Master Clyde, are all investigating how the spill occurred.
The MCA told The Ferret that it had been made aware of the “fuel spill incident” on 31 October. “The MCA’s Regulatory Compliance and Investigation Team is assisting the Defence Accident Investigation Branch and the King’s Harbour Master Clyde with an investigation into what happened,” said an MCA spokesperson.
Oil ‘toxic to wildlife’
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Scotland pointed out that fuel oil was very toxic. “Impacts on local birds that use the sea lochs is quite possible, although so far we haven’t had any reports of adverse effects,” said a society spokesperson.
“Our main concern is that the oil could be ingested, but it could also cause breakdown of feather insulation, and fish and invertebrates could also be killed by direct contact. Seabird populations are still coping with the devastating impacts of avian influenza and this spill will add more local pressure on their ability to get through the winter unscathed.”
Jenni Minto, the SNP MSP for Argyll and Bute, urged the navy to take “all necessary actions” to minimise the long term impact on the loch. “It was really worrying to hear about this major oil spill on Loch Striven,” she said.
“The communities around the loch will be understandably concerned, as I am, about the impact on their beautiful part of the world.
The Green MSP for the Highlands and Islands, Ariane Burgess, described Loch Striven as a beautiful area. “Spills like this are terrible for marine wildlife and devastating for local nature,” she said.
“Now that the spill has been contained and cleared, the focus must be on ensuring there are no longer term consequences for local nature and marine life in the months ahead.”
Burgess said the MoD had important questions to answer about what it could do to ensure it didn’t happen again. “There must be full transparency in the investigation and a clear impact assessment of what damage it has caused and what the MoD is doing to rectify it,” she added.
The Royal Navy stressed that it took its environmental responsibilities seriously. The incident was being investigated by “a third party”, a spokesperson told The Ferret.
The navy said the spill had occurred during “cargo operations”. Fuelling operations had immediately stopped and emergency plans were deployed.
“There was no impact on the capability of Loch Striven Oil Fuel Depot,” it added. “Local fish farms are monitoring the fish and are taking water samples for testing.”
The oil tanker’s owner, James Fisher, has not responded to a request to comment.
Cover image of Loch Striven thanks to iStock/VickyWB. This story was updated at 21.00 on 11 November 2022 to include additional comments from the Royal Navy.