Tanker Grounded at Plymouth Will be Towed Off

PLYMOUTH, England, January 9, 2002 (ENS) - The oil tanker that grounded last week on the rocky shore of an internationally protected natural area in Plymouth Sound has not leaked oil yet, but environmental officials are holding their collective breath until the end of the week. On Friday, the Cypriot flagged MV Willy is being towed down the coast to a salvager at Falmouth 30 nautical miles to the southwest.

The petrol vapors that filled the empty tanks of the Willy have been vented to the air, removing the threat of explosion, according to Phil Collins, chair of the Emergency Environment Group of the government agency English Nature.

Whitesand Bay

The Willy will be towed along Whitesand Bay, a sensitive natural area. (Photo courtesy Freefoto.com)
The tanker will be pumped full of air to refloat it and then towed out to sea with tugs, Collins said. "It will be going out past a nationally and internationally important coastline and an internationally important estuary for migratory birds, so we're still a little concerned," he said.

Although the cargo holds are empty, the ship was carrying for its own use 46 metric tons of medium fuel oil, 41 metric tons of diesel, and 11 metric tons of lubricating oils. A small amount of oil leaked into the sea last Wednesday, but it was contained.

"The sensitive areas include Jennycliff Bay, important for intertidal habitats and species, Devil's Point where the interest extends to the sub-tidal zone, and St. John's Lake and other mudflats where there are large numbers of wintering birds," said Collins.

About 20 tons of oil will be left aboard the Willy while it is being towed along the coast to Falmouth. "While that's not a huge quantity, it's enough to have a significant impact if it was to leak," Collins said.

No oiled birds or other wildlife have been found to date although volunteers from environmental groups have been walking the beaches looking for wildlife in distress.