An oil spill alert was declared off the south coast of Ireland following a refuelling accident involving a Russian military ship.
The Russian 46,000 tonne aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov dropped between 300 - 500 tonnes of light crude oil into the Celtic Sea while refuelling 80km south of Fastnet Rock.
The oil spill was detected by the European Maritime Safety Agency's CleanSeaNet satellite on February 14th 2009. First pictures showed three separate slicks spreading over 40 sq km drifting towards the south-east Irish coast some 50km south of the Old Head of Kinsale.
As the pollution alert was declared, a tug equipped with oil dispersal equipment and a pollution response ship were sent immediately to the area .
The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) called on the authorities to ensure that shellfish farms in the southeast were protected against the oil spill. Around a 25% of Ireland's national production of mussels and oysters come from the southern counties of Cork, Waterford and Wexford.
Eventually, a change in weather conditions with northerly winds drove the oil spill away from the Irish coast and the authorities called off the alert.
The oil slick is expected to disperse at sea with wind and currents, but environmental organisation Coastwatch reminded that tar balls persist for a long time and may be washed back on to the Irish coast weeks later.
Coastwatch spokeswoman, Karin Dubsky, said the Irish Government was “very lucky with the weather” and criticised the lack of oil pollution emergency response plans by local authorities.
Although oil pollution response plans are a statutory obligation for local authorities since Ireland's 1999 Sea Pollution Amendment Act, the coastal counties in the southeast of the country have not yet completed their oil pollution response plans.
The Russian navy was also criticised for not notifying the pollution incident to the Irish authorities as earlier confirmation would have reduced potential risks.
Russian authorities did not officially admit any responsibility for the incident after the oil spill was first detected on February 14th 2009, but following a meeting in Dublin on 23rd February the Russians eventually expressed their “extreme regret” about the spill.
The Irish Government announced the cost of monitoring the oil slick added up to €250,000 and told they hoped for the Russian authorities to contribute towards the costs.