British Divers Marine Life Rescue
British Divers Marine Life Rescue (photo: Steve Marsh)
British Divers Marine Rescue


2009-05-14 14:16:50

Oil leak in Newquay Harbour

Oil leak in Newquay Harbour (Photo: Sue Sayer, Cornwall Seal Group)At approximately 08.20 Area Co-ordinator Dave Jarvis received a message from medic and Cornwall Seal Group organiser Sue Sayer. She had been advised by medics Chris and Annabelle Lowe of a large fire that had been in progress since the early hours of the morning, in Newquay Harbour. Dave then spoke with Annabelle, who was very concerned about the seals that were in the harbour environs, due to them being habituated to human contact, because of quantities of diesel fuel that were running off from the fireground and entering the water in the harbour. Dave immediately contacted Area Co-ordinator Faye Archell, who now lives in Newquay and Assistant Area Co-ordinator Jenny Haley. Jenny immediately made her way to the scene to assess the situation and to link up with Chris and Annabelle who were already assisting by deploying a boom across the harbour entrance to contain the contamination from affecting the surrounding area. Meanwhile, Dave and medic Dan Jarvis began loading various items that might be required and made their way to the area.

When they arrived Chris and Annabelle, together with Kirby Moore were in control of the harbour entrance, allowing boats in and out by temporarily removing one end of the boom, whilst Faye, her partner Alex and Jenny were on the most affected quay, having made contact with the Cornwall Fire Service Control Unit & Environment Agency representative on site. At that time there was one adult grey seal that was coming to the surface & breathing in the slick of diesel that covered the surface of the water. Faye made contact with BDMLR Consultant Veterinary Surgeon James Barnett, who suggested that the team try to make the seal move away from the harbour wall into clearer water, but the animal appeared to do this anyway when the boat engine was turned off.

At about the same time, the Harbour Authority took the first delivery of various items of equipment, that it was hoped would assist in containing the fuel spillage both in the water and on the beach that was becoming increasingly exposed by the receding tide. Sections of a larger, more absorbent boom were placed across the harbour mouth & strips of a fabric roll were placed across the flow of runoff that was still running down from the fire fighting operations in order to try to pick up as much of the fuel as possible. The team were aware that a quantity of absorbent ‘pads’ were also en-route, so Faye asked Sue White at Head Office to source further medics, whilst she also arranged for further medics to come from Cornwall College Newquay, where she now works, to have sufficient people available to try to mop up the fuel left on the beach.

As the operation went on medics Sue Sayer, Bex Allen, Susan Jordan, Debs Wallis, Judith McCall, Colin Pringle, Liz Miller, Kate Hockley, Lesley Jarvis and Area Co-ordinator Tim Bain arrived at the incident to assist, as well as students from Cornwall College Newquay & staff from the nearby Blue Reef Aquarium, where the incoming water supply had also been contaminated. The affected sand was dug from the surface of the beach and set aside in bags for removal. As the fire was now apparently under control, the quantity of water coming onto the beach had reduced, so it was decided to build a bund from rocks and sand to act as a sump to collect the remaining runoff, with the now removed harbour entrance boom and absorbent sheets as a secondary line of defense behind the bund.

As the tide was now coming back in, the flow at the harbour mouth was monitored and seen to be considerably less contaminated. Therefore, because as much of the oil as possible had been either removed or isolated, it was decided to wind down operations.

We would like to thank Newquay Harbourmaster, Environment Agency, Cornwall County Fire Brigade, Truro Harbour Authority, Cornwall College Newquay and all of the medics who attended, but especially Chris and Annabelle Lowe for their unstinting efforts throughout the day.

Dave Jarvis
Director and Cornwall Area Co-ordinator