North West Wales

Ship rescue: Oil leaks from Carrier off Llanddulas after crew saved

Oil has leaked from a cargo ship carrying 40,000 litres of fuel which ran aground off north Wales, leading to concern over the threat to wildlife.

There are three holes on the MV Carrier's starboard, but high winds and rough sea are expected to help break up light diesel that leaked overnight.

Seven crew members were dramatically saved when the ship hit a rock in rough seas at Llanddulas, near Colwyn Bay.

The main fuel supply is thought to be intact, but oil in use has seeped out.

Image caption The ship is lashed by high seas

The conditions remain a problem for those trying to secure the stricken vessel, which is off the beach a few feet from the A55, and attempts are being made to refloat it.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said: "Officers from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency's counter Pollution and Salvage branch are working with all agencies on plans to remove the fuel as soon as possible".

Environment Agency Wales said the incident was not comparable to a large scale oil spill, such as from the Sea Empress tanker off the Pembrokeshire coast in 1996.

The Countryside Council for Wales has confirmed that the area is a European designated conservation zone.

A special protection area of Liverpool Bay lies between the north Wales coast and the Rhyl Flats wind farm, which stands five miles (8km) out to sea.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is worried about on the potential impact to a wintering population of sea birds.

Ray Carson, rescue co-ordination centre manager at Holyhead Coastguard, said there was a smell of fuel around the ship.

Mr Carson said MCA teams would examine the situation and work with colleagues from the salvage industry to look at the correct way of handling the vessel.

The rescue operation involving lifeboats and a helicopter began on Tuesday night after the vessel - which used a jetty to load limestone - is believed to have hit a rock on the breakwater and ended up on the beach.

The RNLI said the Llandudno and Rhyl all-weather lifeboats launched into a "full gale and rough seas" at 20:30 BST and arrived on scene by 21:00 BST.

Distress flare

All seven of the Polish crew were successfully rescued by about 01:00 BST.

However, the Royal Navy rescue helicopter's winch broke midway through the operation, when five of the crew were off the ship.

Image caption The MV Carrier is 82m (269ft) long and registered in Antigua and Barbuda

Rescue co-ordinators had to send out another helicopter from RAF Leconfield to collect the remaining two crew members.

Royal Navy helicopter co-pilot James Bullock, who flew the first rescue aircraft, said: "Firstly we had to locate the boat in poor visibility due to the snow.

"We found it pinned against the embankment of the A55 by the high winds which made the recovery of the remaining crewmen more difficult because of the angle we had to hover at due the turbulent and bumpy conditions."

The crew were taken uninjured to North Wales Police headquarters in Colwyn Bay.

There were concerns of a fire on board the vessel but it turned out to have been a distress flare.

'Strong fuel smell'

Marcus Elliott, the local lifeboat operations manager, said: "The next phase of the operation is to salvage the vessel and assess any damage to its hull.

"There's a strong smell of fuel down there. I don't know obviously for certain but I'm presuming the fuel tanks have been ruptured in some way."

The Department of Transport's Maritime Accident Investigation Branch is investigating.

The A55 was closed in the area for safety reasons but has now reopened westbound. One lane continues to be closed eastbound between junction 22 (Old Colwyn) and 23 (Llanddulas).

A Welsh government spokesman said it was closely monitoring the situation and being kept fully informed.

An MCA spokesman said: "It is not yet clear what the reason was for this ship running aground."

Eye witness Sophie Madeley, from Llandudno Junction, told the BBC the rescue teams had done an "amazing" job.

"I have watched this all night and was stood next to the A55 for the rescue, my high respect goes out to the pilot of the helicopter for the amazing work I watched him do, and also out to the crew for battling it through what has happened."

Another eye witness, Matthew Syddall, said conditions during the rescue were atrocious.

"The ship was clearly wedged up against the coast with the helicopter hovering overhead with its floodlight lighting the deck," he said.

The 82m (269ft) ship was registered in Antigua and Barbuda.

The grounding comes after another vessel - the Swanland - got into difficulties and sank on 27 November after loading with limestone at the same Raynes Jetty.

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