St Helena Online

Tag: oil

RFA Darkdale: delicate task of preventing another Oliva disaster

Clearing oil from the wreck of the RFA Darkdale will be challenging and costly – but clearing up an environmental disaster would be worse.

The Ministry of Defence is keen to avoid coping with an oil slick in mid-ocean, like the one caused near Tristan da Cunha by the loss of the MS Oliva in 2011.

The MoD’s report on the Darkdale says: “There are no publicly available figures for the total cost of the clean-up for [the Oliva] incident. However given the response that was mobilised, the figure will be several million pounds.”

The same could be true of a major leak from the Darkdale. “If no positive action is taken to remove the oil, the MoD must be prepared to mobilise a large scale response when the wreck releases the oil, and bear all the costs of this action.”

But it knows it can be done – because it has already tackled the same challenge with the wreck of the HMS Royal Oak, which was sunk by a U-boat in Scapa Flow, in the Orkney Islands, in 1939, with the loss of 914 lives.

Like the Darkdale, it began leaking oil at a growing rate as its hull corroded. Both ships lie in similar depths.

A technique known as hot-tapping was used to remove 1,500 cubic metres of oil from the Royal Oak.

This would involve sawing a hole into the Darkdale’s remaining tanks so the oil could be drawn off carefully.

“The structure of the Darkdale is a simple single-hulled tanker, making hot-tapping considerably easier than on a warship,” says the MoD’s December 2013 report.

“Much of the difficulty and time spent removing oil from the Royal Oak was due to the large number of small compartments and defensive design features such as the torpedo bulge.

“The Darkdale does not have any of these features.”

Disposing of the oil waste will need careful thought, says the report.

And there remains a danger from wartime shells, it says. “A detailed assessment of the unexploded ordinance risk would have to be undertaken and it is likely that the shells lying around the wreck would have to be removed and disposed of.”

St Helena’s remoteness will add greatly to the costs.

In other respects, the emptying of oil from the Royal Oak may have been far more delicate, judging from a report on the website of the contractor, Briggs.

“Spaces adjacent to bunker tanks were containing sensitive munitions and human remains,” it says.

The ship’s status as a war grave had to be respected throughout the operation.

Oil boom brings housing need on Falklands

The Falklands look set to get their own version of Bradley’s Camp, the temporary housing being used for airport workers on St Helena. Mercopress reports that a developer is being asked to build two 200-bed blocks of accommodation in Stanley, ready for an expected influx of oil industry workers. Read more

Revealed: blunders that caused Tristan da Cunha wreck disaster

Last year’s shipwreck disaster on Tristan da Cunha was caused by a drowsy officer who thought Nightingale Island was a rain cloud, an investigation has revealed.

The chief mate of the MS Oliva failed to change course when Tristan’s sister island showed up on radar, and the ship ploughed on to rocks.

People on Tristan spent weeks trying to save the lives of rockhopper penguins that were plucked from rocks after the cargo ship broke up in heavy swell.

Last month the entire 260-strong community was awarded a medal by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

It took a week for salvage crews to make the 1,700-mile voyage across the South Atlantic to the wreck, while the captain and crew were sheltered in homes.

The 75,300-tonne Oliva was wrecked on uninhabited Nightingale in the early hours of 16 March 2011.

Now a report by the Marine Safety Investigation Unit in Malta, where the ship was registered, has revealed a succession of human failures.

The ship’s officers knew they would pass close to some islands on their voyage from South America to Singapore, but not when. They failed to follow their route properly on charts, relying mainly on a satellite navigation system.

Just after four in the morning, the ship passed only 3.25 nautical miles from Inaccessible Island – a World Heritage Site that was later polluted by escaped oil.

The second mate saw its radar echo but “assumed it was either rain clouds or an iceberg”, says the report.

Soon after 0500, the chief mate “noticed a large echo on the radar screen, very close ahead. He assumed it was a heavy storm cloud and thereafter, he felt the vessel’s impact of running aground.

“The vibration of the vessel running aground and the change in the main engine noise woke up most of the crew, including the master.”

The ship slid on the sea bottom as conditions worsened and at about 0300 the next day, a rock pierced one of the holds. The engine room flooded and an oil slick appeared.

The unnamed Greek captain and the Filippino crew were taken off by a trawler and boats from a cruise ship.

Nearly 48 hours after the collision, Oliva broke in two in heavy swells, spilling 1,500 tonnes of oil into the sea, and most of its cargo of soya beans.

The investigation report says the chief mate had been unable to sleep until five hours before he was due on night watch, because of a cold, and had taken medicine.

“He required two wake-up calls before he arrived on the bridge to take over his watch.

“The combination of the cold, medication, lack of sleep, the time of the day and reaction to the ship’s grounding suggested that the chief mate was probably not fit to stand a navigational watch.”

The report also says that bridge management systems were not followed. Charts were not marked with a “no go” area around the islands, and a plotting error meant that the ship’s projected route took it straight over the mile-wide Nightingale Island.

The RSPB has praised the Tristanians for a “phenomenal” response to the resulting ecological disaster.

The fishing vessel Edinburgh transported 3,718 penguins to Tristan da Cunha, where 80 islanders worked for three months to clean and feed the birds. Conservation workers arrived from South Africa to help, bringing medicines.

A works shed was transformed into a penguin hospital, and recovering birds took over the island’s swimming pool.

Chief islander Ian Lavarello said: “Many of us are descendants of shipwrecked sailors who settled on Tristan, so it was natural for us to shelter the rescued men from the Oliva and at the same time, turn to saving as many of the affected penguins as possible.”

But only 12 per cent of those taken to the main island survived to be released into the sea. It is thought most of Nightingale’s penguins had already left the island after breeding when the ship broke up.

Dr Ross Wanless of Birdlife South Africa, who called the outcome “an unmitigated disaster”, criticised insurers for delay in sending bird experts to join the clean-up.

Months after the incident, scientists found rotting soya beans had killed sea creatures and caused severe damage to the lobster fishery that provides islanders with most of their income.

Seventeen months after the incident, the Nightingale fishery remained closed and the quota at Inaccessible Island had been halved.

In September 2012, the ship’s owners agreed to pay compensation to the islanders.

Falklands braced for oil boom with deep-water port plan

A new deep-water port facility is planned for the Falkland Islands, reports the Mercopress news website.

It says the new landing facilities will be at Port William, to avoid the environmental impact of expanding the floating dock at Stanley. The plans assume oil and gas production will have taken off within five or six years, requiring hundreds of tones of equipment to be transported to the South Atlantic.

Councillor Dick Sawle is quoted saying: “While we welcome and want to support all of the oil and gas industry, we need its development to happen in the right place and that is not Stanley Harbour.”

Read the full story here.

St Helena’s two wharf schemes both struggle for funds

Buenos Airies sues Falklands oil companies

Argentina has begun legal action against five UK oil companies for offshore exploration around the Falkland Islands, claiming they are operating in Argentinian territory. In return, Britain has accused Buenos Aires of illegal harassment and intimidation. Read more here.

How photo-blogger told America about island oil disaster

MS Oliva goes aground. Click the pic for more images, courtesy of

Photographer Andrew Evans arrived on the world’s most remote inhabited island just days after the bulk carrier MS Oliva was shipwrecked, creating an environmental disaster.

The ship releasing an oil slick that was to kill hundreds of endangered rockhopper penguins – and for a few days, it went unreported in the world’s media.

Evans had travelled to Tristan da Cunha in his role as National Geographic’s ‘digital nomad’, intending to capture the islanders’ way of life. Instead, he found himself witnesses the islanders’ response to a calamity.

Now National Geographic has released a video of him talking about how he broke the story of the MS Oliva.

“It was devasting,” he says. “Nobody in the world knew about this. This was an island that was completely disconnected. It’s off the grid.

“The first thing I did was take as many pictures as I could. I created a YouTube video and published it immediately from the ship. I put it out on Twitter [an internet messaging website] and it got picked up by the blogosphere.

“National Geographic got it out there in the real press, and it went to the New York Times.”

The lesson, says Evans, is that anyone with a camera and a web connection has the power to share news with the world.

In fact, Tristan is not as disconnected as he suggests. The story was also being relayed beyond the island on Tristan’s own website, which is published from the UK.

And unlike Evans, a Belgian witness had video footage of the crew actually being rescued by personnel from a passing cruise ship. However, Kanaal van KristineHannon’s shots did not appear on YouTube for another 11 days.

And efforts were being made to get the story in the UK media – but the oil spill happened in the same week as the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The BBC was told about the story several times, but took days to get round to covering it.

The Today programme ran a live interview on the crisis on 22 March 2011 – the day Evans arrived on Tristan (and released a video in which he made no mention of the disaster).

Tristan penguin rescuers triumph – maybe

National Geographic Live: Andrew Evans on reporting the Tristan oil spill
BBC Today programme report – 22 March 2011
Andrew Evans arrives on Tristan da Cunha – 22 March 2012
Nightingale Oil Spill – Andrew Evans’s original video,  24 March 2012
YouTube: MS Oliva runs aground – Kristine Hannon crew rescue footage, 27 March 2012

Argentine harrassment of Falklands is illegal, says UK

Oil rig: genetic picture
Rigged for a storm: Argentina is threatening criminal action against oil companies in the Falklands (library picture by Nate2B: click the pic for more)

Argentina’s attempts to make life difficult for Falkland Islanders are “illegal”, says the UK government.

The latest move has been a threat of legal action against companies exploring for oil in the islands. Its foreign minister, Hector Timerman, promised “administrative, civil and criminal” penalties, claiming Falklands oil belongs to Argentina.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “These latest attempts to damage the economic livelihoods of the Falkland Islands people regrettably reflect a pattern of behaviour by the Argentine government.

“From harassing Falklands shipping to threatening the islanders’ air links with Chile, Argentina’s efforts to intimidate the Falklands are illegal, unbecoming and wholly counter-productive.

“We are studying Argentina’s remarks carefully and will work closely with any company potentially affected to ensure that the practical implications for them are as few as possible.”

“The British government supports the right of the Falkland Islanders to develop their own natural resources for their own economic benefit. The Falkland Islands Government is, as always, entitled to develop both fisheries and hydrocarbons industries within its own waters, without interference from Argentina.”

Prime Minister David Cameron says he has discussed rising tensions over sovereignty with President Barack Obama, and that the US clearly supports keeping things as they are.

An atmospheric set of pictures of the Falkland Islands, taken by Reuters photographer Marcos Brindicci, appears on a photoblog, here. Besides the usual reflections on the 1982 war, there’s a shot of island Willy Bowles, helping school children across the road in Stanley.


Reuters archive of Falkland Islands stories and pictures


The Sun shines a light on Lisa’s defiance

The Sun newspaper tells the stirring tale of the 12-year-old Falkland Islander who defied an Argentinian invader 30 years ago. It says Lisa Watson refused to budge for the “twitching” commander with the machine gun and faced him down.

Lisa Watson in The Sun. Click the pic to read the story

Lisa is now editor of the islands’ newspaper, Penguin News – a role that has put her in the firing line for Argentinians’ anger once again.

The feature’s headlined: “I defied Argies aged 12 and I’ll keep doing so. Truth is people here are proud to be British”.

Sun man Oliver Harvey gives an assessment of the current situation on the islands, including the implications of oil wealth coming to Stanley.

He quotes the islanders’ offer to use its extra income to share the cost of military protection at RAF Mount Pleasant.

It’s an intelligent, if slightly jingoistic piece of writing, though it should be said that it doesn’t actually have any quotes from Lisa that haven’t already appeared elsewhere, including on this website. Read it here (with thanks to UK-based Falkland Islander Graham Bound for the link).

See also:

Editor Lisa is hatched, thatched and mis-matched
File’s a bitch, and then penguins fly

Islands are key to ice riches, says academic

Britain’s islands in the South Atlantic are frontier posts in a race for economic riches in the Antarctic, according to an academic in Argentina.

In past centuries, St Helena was a vital refuelling station for the commercial supply lines of the British Empire. Now, says Juan Recce, her sister islands have become key strategic assets, as jumping-off points for the ice continent and its underwater wealth.

‘The islands of Ascension, Tristan da Cunha, South Georgia and South Sandwich give logistical control of the path to Antarctica,’ says Recce, executive director of the Argentine Centre for International Studies.

He suggests Antarctica could yield great economic riches – not only oil, but also other natural resources that can be harnessed for the medical drugs industry.

‘Before, there was talk of krill as food for the future,’ says Recce on ‘Today, it is the race for patenting of biodiversity for pharmaceutical purposes, for control of mineral resources on the continental shelf that is submerged and control of hydrocarbon resources that may exist in the subsurface.’

Recce, who is executive director of the Argentine Centre for International Studies, is clearly writing for his country.

He says if Buenos Aires gave up its claim to Las Malvinas (the Falklands), it would be ‘giving up our genome heritage, biodiversity, mineral wealth and, perhaps, oil.’

It’s not about ‘the Kelpers’, he says, using his country’s not-affectionate nickname for Falkland islanders – it’s about climate change, money from pharmaceuticals, and big changes in the way the world’s nations get their energy.

‘We are now facing a high-level game of chess. The Malvinas and Antarctica are, for the United Kingdom, part of a strategic power agenda.

‘The country’s margins expand with its overseas territories in the central South Atlantic.’

On the same website, another article says Britain is becoming unpopular with Argentina’s neighbours over oil exploration in the Falklands. Writer Matt Ince says pledges of support could leave Britain unable to bring in people and supplies through South America.

But he says sympathy and support for Buenos Aires are unlikely to lead to armed conflict.

Ince, of the Royal United Services Institute think-tank in the UK, suggests Argentina’s president is using the Falklands to divert attention from spending cuts and restraints on media freedom. says it aims to be an ‘online knowledge hub for those wanting the inside track on European politics’ and the business world.

Tristan penguin rescuers triumph – maybe

MS Oliva goes aground. Click the pic for more images, courtesy of

Efforts by the people of Tristan da Cunha to rescue birds in last year’s oil spill disaster appear to have been a great success, against enormous odds.

A count appears to show little impact on breeding among the island’s endangered rockhopper penguin colonies after the MS Oliva broke up on rocks.

But oil and cargo released into the South Atlantic from the ship have severely damaged the lobster fishery that provides islanders’ main source of income.

Tristanians rescue crew from MS Oliva. Click the pic for more images. Courtesy of

Tristanians had to rescue crew members of the MS Oliva when it hit rocks off neighbouring Nightinghale Island on March 16.

They then set up their own clean-up operation for wildlife while they waited more than a week for help to arrive from Cape Town, 1,700 miles away by sea.

The ship broke up in rough weather, discharging 1,500 tonnes of bunker fuel into the sea. The resulting slick reached Tristan and Inaccessible Island, a World Heritage Site.

Now a report by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds says the breeding population of rockhopper penguins in the area has not suffered as much as anticipated.

But Dr Juliet Vickery, head of international research, says the figures should be treated with caution.

Venessa Strauss and Dereck Rogers washing oiled penguins. Picture courtesy of

Well over half of the world’s population of Northern Rockhopper penguins breed on the Tristan group of islands.

Approximately 154,000 of them bred on the islands in 2011, but estimates in the 1950s suggest there were ‘millions’ of birds, with two million pairs on Gough alone.

‘It’s a big relief that the initial results of the counts are better than we had anticipated,’ says Dr Vickery. ‘We should not, however, relax our watch. There is much we don’t know about this species.’

She says it is not known how well population trends can be worked out from counts in breeding colonies. There may be longer-term ‘sub-lethal’ effects on breeding.

‘It is vital that we continue to monitor the birds closely for several more years to establish the true impact of the oil spill.’

Makeshift penguin pens. Picture courtesy of

The oil spill has also caused concern for the important Rock Lobster fishery around Tristan – the mainstay of the island’s economy. The latest evidence shows that catches are way below normal and rotting soya has been spotted on the traps.

Divers found the wreck had broken up considerably over the Southern Hemisphere winter. The Nightingale fishery has closed on expert advice and the quota for the fishery at Inaccessible Island was reduced from 92 to 53 tonnes for 2011/12 season.

An RSPB emergency appeal raised almost £70,000, which will be used to support penguin monitoring, strengthen the islands’ biosecurity, and help Tristan control rats – which could spread to Nightinghale and kill chicks.

Katrine Herian. who works for the RSPB on Tristan, praised islanders for their work: ‘Something really needs to be said about the huge Tristanian efforts in response to this disaster.

‘Without them, this could have been a very different story. While the true impact of the spill won’t be known for some time yet, we can at least know that everything that could be done was done.’