Thu, Feb 19, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Irish authorities keeping eye on 500-tonne oil spill

AP , LONDON

Irish authorities said on Tuesday they were monitoring a major oil spill that is drifting toward the Irish coast — the largest spill in the waters around Ireland in a decade.

The Irish Marine Department said the oil slick was discovered close to where a Russian aircraft carrier was refueling in the Celtic Sea between western Britain and the southern coast of Ireland.

The department said on Tuesday it was too early to predict how much of the spill, thought to be around 500 tonnes (3,750 barrels), would come ashore. The oil slick is almost 5km long and 5km wide.

Molly Walsh, a spokeswoman for the environmental group Friends of the Earth, said the spill could seriously damage marine life.

Irish authorities learned about the spill on Saturday through surveillance carried out by the European Maritime Safety Agency in Lisbon, Portugal. Irish military aircraft flew over the area and saw the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, a Russian oil tanker, and a Russian oceangoing tug near the slick.

Russia’s chief of general staff General Nikolai Marakov confirmed that a Russian aircraft carrier had refueled in the area but denied there had been any problems.

“We have no reason to think that anything went wrong during refueling,” he told reporters.

The Press Association, the ­British news agency, said a Russian destroyer, a British destroyer, an Irish Naval vessel and a Russian aircraft carrier were at the site of the spill off the west coast of Ireland.

Ireland’s Department of Transport said it expects the slick to reach the southern coast of Ireland in about 16 days. It said some of the oil would evaporate and most of the rest will likely develop into tar balls — small, sticky patches of oil that often wash ashore.

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