The Sea Empress Oil Spill in Milford Haven

On 15 February 1996, the Sea Empress oil tanker ran aground as it entered the Milford Haven Waterway. Six days later, the tanker refloated and was towed into the harbor. In the days between its grounding and towing, the oil tanker spilled 72,000 tons of crude oil along the Pembrokeshire Coastline, within the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. This coastline is of conservational interest to the United Kingdom as it is home to important export fisheries and mussel populations. The Food and Environment Protection Act, 1985 (FEPA), whose objective is to advise fisheries and consumers on policies following oil spills, was put in charge of monitoring the voluntary ban on mussel harvesting. FEPA officials determined that mussels in Milford Haven and other areas along the Pembrokeshire Coast accumulated a dangerous level of oil pollution from the spill. To protect the local population from mussel contamination and the consumption of dangerous human carcinogens, FEPA asserted that 200 square kilometers were unfishable and mussel harvesting was temporarily discontinued. On 12 September 1997, after studies determined that pollutant accumulation in mussels began to decline, all FEPA bans were lifted. 

Contributed by Cassandra Denger
Course: Global Environmental History
Instructor: Andrew Stuhl, Ph.D.
Bucknell University Lewisburg, US

Further Readings: 
  • Law, R. J., and J. A. Campbell. 1998. "The Effects of Oil and Chemical Spillages at Sea". Water and Environment Journal. 12 (4): 245-249.
  • Lyons RA, JM Temple, D Evans, DL Fone, and SR Palmer. 1999. "Acute health effects of the Sea Empress oil spill". Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 53 (5): 306-10.