Diesel spill stirs troubled waters over Oban harbour control

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Alleged delays in dealing with a diesel spill that left seawater off Oban ‘pink and stinking’ have fuelled more frustration among supporters wanting a new harbour authority to take control of the Bay.

The spill, believed to have happened between Friday night and early the next morning, was reported at 7.30am on Saturday to SEPA and the Coastguard via Police Scotland but booms to try and control the pollution were only deployed off the Esplanade by council staff on the Sunday afternoon – 30 hours later, according to a timeline provided by Oban Community Harbour Development Association (OCHDA).

The absorbent booms to try and control the pollution were only deployed 30 hours after the diesel spill in Oban Bay was first reported, according to Oban Community Harbour Development Association (OCHDA)

At the moment there is no overall authority for those waters and since December 2019 OCHDA has been trying, in partnership with Argyll and Bute Council, to set up a new, independent Harbour Authority to take charge of the bay on behalf of the people of Oban.

But the process of making that happen has also been hampered by delays, says OCHDA which is still waiting for a meeting with officials from stakeholders, including the council and statutory harbour authority CMAL (Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited) to quicken the pace.

OCHDA says despite the urgency of the task to set up the new Harbour Authority, there has been limited progress so far and unless something happens soon there could be ‘another, more serious incident’ than a fuel spill.

A spokesperson for OCHDA said: ‘Accidents at sea can happen, like anywhere else. What matters most is to manage the consequences effectively by quick reporting and prompt, joined-up action to control the situation.

‘It’s not clear who was co-ordinating the response and it wasn’t until Sunday afternoon that pollution control measures were in place off the Esplanade by which time serious environmental damage is likely to have taken place.

Traditionally, pre 1975, Oban Town Council was responsible for the waters of the bay and would have managed the incident, said the spokesperson.

‘Despite the urgency of the task to set up a new Harbour Authority (HA) there has been limited progress and it is only a matter of time before another, more serious incident occurs. In the meantime we must make sure that the new HA is set up without delay in collaboration with the council and all other stakeholders,’ added the OCHDA spokesperson.

CalMac said the spillage had not come from any of the ferry operations.

A spokesperson for Argyll and Bute Council said: ‘Throughout Saturday and Sunday, CalMac, the council and the Northern Lighthouse Board took a co-ordinated approach to deal with a diesel spillage in Oban Bay, all the time keeping in contact with the Maritime Coastguard Agency Counter Pollution and Salvage Officer. Together, we carefully monitored the situation and based on assessment of site conditions and weather, we deployed booms at the North Pier at midday on Sunday. There was a multi-agency debriefing on Monday.’

A spokesperson for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) said: ‘SEPA received reports of a diesel spill in the water in Oban Bay at around 7.45 am on Saturday March 27.

‘We are working closely with partner agencies and organisations including the Coastguard, Harbour Authority and others to determine the source of the spillage.

‘Booms were deployed across various locations by the Local Authority and others to collect the diesel and mitigate any significant environmental impact. We are not aware of any ongoing discharge.

‘We would advise members of the public concerned about a potential ongoing pollution incident to contact us via our 24-hour online form at www.sepa.org.uk/report.’