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The Sea Empress oil spill in context (1998)
22 May 2014
Dr Ian White and Dr Jenifer Baker
Paper presented at the International Conference on the Sea Empress Oil Spill, 11-13 February 1998, Cardiff, Wales
Given the low world-wide incidence of major tanker spills in recent years, the UK can be considered unfortunate to have suffered three of the world's 20 largest spills of all time, two of them only three years apart. The grounding of the Sea Empress in February 1996 followed the wrecks of the Braer in January 1993 (84,700 tonnes of oil spilled) and the Torrey Canyon in March, 1967 (119,000 tonnes). Volume of oil lost, however, is not necessarily the most important factor in determining the seriousness of a particular incident. How the spilled oil behaves, where it ends up and what it affects will normally depend more upon the type of oil; the prevailing weather and sea conditions; and the physical, biological and socio-economic characteristics of the spill location. These in 0turn can be influenced by the time of the year, as well as the type of clean-up measures adopted, their effectiveness and net environmental benefit.
These inter-acting factors are explored by the authors, with reference to previous major oil spills that have been studied in some depth, in order to provide a basis for assessing the results of the various studies following the Sea Empress.