Taking stock after the Sea Empress

The committee set up to assess the environmental impacts of the 1996 Sea Empress disaster published its report in February. 1 Some wildlife species are still struggling to recover from the effects of the oil spill, but most - thanks to a highly fortuitous set of circumstances - were little affected or are well on the road to recovery. Meanwhile, the Government has disregarded the conclusions of a cost-benefit analysis and provided no additional salvage tugs to guard against a similar incident.

Experience over the past four decades has shown that most ecosystems have the capacity to recover fairly quickly from the effects of oil pollution - indeed, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution concluded as much in 1981. There are exceptions to the rule - sensitive habitats such as mangrove swamps and coral reefs, and the polar regions where oil volatilises and degrades slowly - but in general the grosser effects of oil are not much

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