The 147,000 tonne oil tanker Sea Empress ran aground on February 15th 1996 at 8.07 pm, despite being under the control of one of Milford Haven’s harbour pilots.

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The Clean up Operation

The main containment and dispersal of the oil slick at sea was completed within six weeks. However, the removal of oil on shore took until the late spring of 1997, over a year after the spill. Small amounts of oil were still being found beneath the sand on sheltered beaches and in rock pools in 1999, three whole years after the spill. 

Fortunately, the effects of the spill were not as bad as initially predicted. This was partly thanks to the time of year when it occurred. February's stormy weather helped break-up and naturally disperse the oil, and many migratory birds had not yet arrived back from their winter travels.  The spill would undoubtedly have been far, far worse, both for wildlife and for the local economy if it had occurred during the later summer months.

Much of the Pembrokeshire coastline recovered relatively quickly. By 2001, the affected marine wildlife population levels had more-or-less returned to normal.

In January 1999, Milford Haven Port Authority (MHPA) was fined four million pounds after pleading guilty to the offence of causing pollution under the Water Resources Act of 1991. They also had to pay a further £825,000 in costs. The cost of the clean-up operation was estimated to be £60m. When the effects to the economy and environment are taken into account, the final cost is estimated to have been twice that.

Read More: Credits

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