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Spill preparedness called ‘shameful’

One year after a Chinese tanker grounded off Telemark and fouled Norway’s southern coast, environmental activists and those charged with clean-up preparedness are crying “foul” themselves. They’re blasting the government for failing to follow up on promises to boost spill-fighting capabilities.

Last summer's grounding of the Chinese tanker "Full City" set off a major spill that exposed weaknesses in clean-up preparedness. PHOTO: Kystverket

Norway’s coalition government, led by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and his Labour Party, has come under even more criticism. Now it’s because of the government’s alleged failure to boost maritime safety and grant more funding for oil spill preparedness.

Newspaper Aftenposten and Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) have been among the media outlets taking the pulse of oil spill preparedness on the anniversary of the grounding of the tanker Full City, and following BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. They’ve interviewed officials from environmental organizations and public authorities charged with tackling oil spills when they occur, and they’re not happy.

WWF, for example, released a report late last week that was strongly critical of the government’s response to the Full City spill. They contend that necessary vessels and equipment needed to clean up oil spills and prevent them from spreading are still not in place along most of Norway’s coastline.

Tugboats are now in place along the southern coast, WWF concedes, but no agreements are in effect for tugboats to be deployed from Egersund in the south to Lofoten in the north along Norway’s long west coast. Other vessels earmarked for oil spill clean-up are old and slow, WWF claimed, and heavy bunker oil is still allowed on ships sailing in and out of Norwegian ports.

WWF claimed that much of the preparedness that has improved was in response to demands from as long ago as 2001, not after last summer’s oil spill that ranked as the largest in Norwegian history and sentenced the vessel’s captain to jail.

“It’s especially shameful that we don’t have full tugboat preparedness along the entire coast,” Nina Jensen of WWF told Aftenposten.

Other groups are criticizing a proposal to reduce the number of ships requiring pilots on board, fearing that can lead to more accidents and groundings.

Government officials, already on the defensive over a number of other environmental issues of late, contend they have responded to last year’s spill and are following up on their promises. Karl-Eirik Schjøtt-Pedersen of the Labour Party, chief of staff in the prime minister’s office, said the tugboats are in place along the especially sensitive southern coast, a popular holiday destination, and that “we have focus” on the need for strengthening preparedness along the West Coast as well.

He also noted that NOK 127 million in extra funding was allocated for oil spill preparedness, calling that “a major boost” for maritime safety and environmental protection.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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