Northern Ireland

Belfast Lough oil tanker cargo transfer completed

Oil tankers
Image caption The BW Seine was drawn alongside the Genmar Companion for the oil transfer

An operation to remove 54,000 tonnes of oil from a damaged tanker in Belfast Lough has finished.

The Genmar Companion had been sheltering off the Copeland Islands since developing a crack on its deck on 16 December.

The operation to transfer the vacuum gas oil was delayed several times due to the extreme weather.

The transfer, which began on Friday night, was halted for a period due to strong winds but resumed on Saturday.

A 23-strong crew have been on board the ship since the crack was detected when passing the Donegal coast.

The crew are mostly from India and the Philippines and among them is a two-year-old girl.

The safety exclusion zone around the tankers was lifted at midnight on Saturday.

Hugh Shaw, the Secretary of State's Representative Maritime Salvage and Intervention, said: "I am delighted that the ship-to-ship transfer operation has now been successfully completed.

"I would like to take this opportunity to offer my thanks to all concerned with the operation.

"In particular I would like to thank Fendercare and the masters and crew of both the Genmar Companion and BW Seine for their professionalism in carrying out the transfer in extremely difficult weather conditions experienced over the past week."

"I would like to thank the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Northern Ireland Assembly for supporting the decision to carry out the operation in Belfast Lough."

Environment Minister Alex Attwood said his department monitored the situation, with health and safety and environment issues taking priority.

"I think we are all relieved that the operation has now been concluded successfully and that there has been no damage to the Northern Ireland coastline, one of our most beautiful assets," he said.

"There have been considerable challenges in managing an operation of this nature during the stormy conditions we have been having.

"I would like to thank the captains and crew of both vessels who worked throughout the night to achieve a successful outcome.

"I would also like to commend the Secretary of State's Representative, Hugh Shaw, for his thoroughness and patience in handling this incident."

The ships were manoeuvred together by tugs and held side by side. A one-mile exclusion zone was put around the ships while the transfer took place.

The crack in the deck of the Bermudan-flagged tanker was first noticed as it passed 40 miles west of Tory Island on its journey from Rotterdam to New York.

Damage is not believed to have extended to the oil cargo holding area of the ship but as a precaution it was decided to take shelter in Belfast Lough.

The Genmar Companion will now be taken to Belfast harbour for repairs.

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