Grounded ship’s oil spill called the 'worst ever' in Norway

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Environmental experts were worried that oil spilling on Friday out of a grounded ship off the scenic coast of Telemark would create “the worst (oil spill) we’ve ever seen” in Norway. By Sunday, state officials were forced to agree as oil spread in all directions, soiling islands and the mainland from Stavern to Kragerø.

Norway’s state Directorate for Nature Management (DN) said the oil spill threatened the entire coast of southern Norway, as heavy bunker oil from the cargo ship Full City was carried by winds and currents. Clean-up crews failed to contain the oil in stormy seas.

DN officials said the spill was “the worst to have affected seabirds and recreational areas in modern Norwegian history.” By Saturday morning it was feared that thousands of birds had already died, and various agencies were arguing over whether birds found covered with oil should be cleaned or killed.

Kurt Oddekalv, leader of environmental organization Norges Miljøvernforbund (Green Warriors of Norway), had earlier told Aftenposten.no that he feared “dramatic” consequences after the vessel grounded during a storm Thursday night.

The Panama-registered vessel had more than 1,000 tons of heavy bunker oil on board, which Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported on Sunday was poisonous. Its 23 crew members were rescued and no injuries have been reported. Several of the crew had stayed on board to try to contain the spill themselves.

“A thousand tons of oil is a lot,” Oddekalv said. “We’ve had bigger spills elsewhere in the country, but there are so many communities along the coast here.” The scenic area is also a popular holiday and recreational site, with several nearby bird sanctuaries.The vessel was waiting to take on a cargo of saltpeter when rough seas and strong winds from a storm unusual for this time of the year raged from Thursday afternoon until Friday morning. The ship grounded outside Langesund and was in danger of sinking.

Lars Haltbrekken of Naturvernforbundet (Friends of the Earth in Norway) was also concerned. “The accident can have fatal consequences for bird life in the area, because it occurred so close to sea bird sanctuaries,” he told Aftenposten.no.

Emergency crews were working hard to pump up the oil, and set out booms all around the vessel in an effort to capture the spill. Many birds, however, were already seen covered with oil by Friday mid-day.

Oil was rolling in with the waves at the bird sanctuary of Mølen at Brunlanes, which also is known for its Viking graves. Owners of summer cottages all along the coast were at risk, and no one could go in the water.

“The swimming season at Krokshavn and Steinvika is definitely over for this year,” said Telemark mayor Jon Pieter Flølo.

Emergency crews were trying to stop the oil from washing up at Jomfruland off Kragerø, south of the grounding, and the idyllic coastal town of Risør was also under threat. Norway’s preparedness measures came under criticism as the oil kept spreading.

Some state wildlife officials started killing birds that were found covered with oil, while environmental activists advocated trying to clean the birds instead. Friends of the Earth said it had volunteers standing by to help with clean up efforts.

Norway’s government ministers in charge of fisheries and the environment visited the area on Saturday and admitted that clean-up efforts could be better. Environmental Minister Erik Solheim said he would evaluate proposals to prohibit vessels carrying heavy bunker oil from entering Norwegian harbors, but noted it was difficult to impose any such regulation on an international business like shipping.