'Don't go in the water,' public warned, after major oil spill in Dorset, with clean-up underway

26 March 2023, 21:51 | Updated: 27 March 2023, 12:31

Roads surrounding Poole Harbour, Dorset have been closed
Roads surrounding Poole Harbour, Dorset have been closed. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

People have been told not to go into the water after 200 barrels of oil and reservoir fluid spilled into Poole Harbour in Dorset.

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The spill took place from a Perenco onshore oil field at nearby Wytch Farm under Owers Bay on Sunday.

Perenco said a "full investigation" would be carried out into what had happened and added that the leak was "under control".

Each of the 200 barrels contains around 160 litres of fluid, which is 85% water and 15% oil.

The harbour is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI) due to its large wading bird population. Local charity Birds of Poole Harbour said the site was "an incredibly important area environmentally".

Poole Harbour Commissioners (PHC) warned anyone who has come into contact with the spill to wash immediately.

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Pipeline owner Perenco (rig pictured) said a full investigation will take place
Pipeline owner Perenco (rig pictured) said a full investigation will take place. Picture: Alamy

PHC said: "It is estimated that approximately 200 barrels of reservoir fluid has been released into the water column in Poole Harbour.

"Anyone who has come into contact with the spill should wash immediately with soap and water. If eyes have come into contact with the spill, they should be rinsed with water."

PHC added that companies specialising in oil spill clean ups have also been called to the scene.

Wytch Farm pipeline manager Franck Dy insisted the spill is under control.

He said: "Any spill is an extremely serious matter and a full investigation will be launched to ascertain what happened in Poole Harbour.

"It is important to stress that the situation is under control, with the discharge of fluids having been stopped and the spill is being contained."

Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole council leader Philip Broadhead confirmed that a major incident had been declared this evening.

He added in a Twitter statement: "All partner agencies are working closely together to ensure all measures needed are being enacted."

Poole's is the largest natural harbour in Europe.

Birds of Poole Harbour founder Paul Morton said: "The fact it’s happened right in the middle of such an environmentally important area is incredibly worrying.

"Poole Harbour hosts nationally and internationally important numbers of wetland birds each winter and equally important numbers of other species."

He said that several species of birds are arriving or are expected to arrive in the harbour soon as part of seasonal migration patterns, including the only pair of osprey in southern Britain.

Mr Morton added: "When it comes to an issue like this there are several areas of concern. One is that any birds that come into physical contact with this substance can see their feathers damaged and become less water resistant. The substance will also encourage any affected birds to preen constantly, meaning they could ingest the hazardous liquid.

"The other unknown is how much of the oil will settle on the mud and harbour shorelines and what impact that will have on marine invertebrates.

"There are so many unanswered questions currently, although thankfully, as of yet there have been no confirmed reports of any birds showing signs of distress as a result of the incident, although it is still early days."

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