Now a beach oil hazard!

The worst marine oil slick to have hit the east coast was brought about 1978 when
in thick fog the Greek owned oil tanker ‘Eleni V’, ‘en route from Rotterdam
to Grangemouth, was struck and sliced in two by the French bulk ore carrier
‘Roseline’ six miles off Winterton. Much of the spill of 117,280 barrels
(more than 5,000 tonnes) of high viscosity heavy fuel oil washed up along a
35 kilometre stretch of the east coast all the way from Winterton to

The spill killed much sea life and many sea birds, and imposed a grave
threat to the tourist income upon which the Norfolk and Suffolk coast is so
dependent. The cost of the clear up of the beaches was £300,000, half of
which had to be paid by the ratepayers of Great Yarmouth Borough Council.

Now a new threat is being exposed as our beach sand cover drops because the
oil once deeply buried deeply at the rear of beaches 36 years ago is
reappearing. Already areas have been exposed between Winterton and Corton,
seen as very dark patches left on the sand surface and on some beaches the
black outline of the trenches where it was buried. There was no large scale
offshore aggregate dredging in 1978, so with our coastline then still
accreting this burial methodology was considered to be the safest and most
logical way to remove the sticky black mass along the shoreline, all
performed by hand digging and deeply burying the covering the oil, as at the
time the slick could not be accessed by machinery and taken to landfill.

In theory the trenches of oil would have become even more deeply covered by
sand over the years because at that time the beach sand cover was not
diminishing. Furthermore, the pollutant was initially considered to be
biodegradable and non-toxic, although a degree of toxicity became apparent
when a number of the people performing the clear up operation were made ill
due to the fumes attacking the throat and causing headaches.

As there exist no known maps indicating the exact location of the trenches,
Great Yarmouth Borough Council has commissioned a £25,000 investigation
part-funded with £7,000 from the Environment Agency to assess the continuing
impact and level of threat posed to people and the beaches. Already experts
are combing a four kilometre stretch of beach, focusing on trenches that
were exposed by severe erosion in a bid to find out how much oil was buried
under the beaches in 1978, what to do and how to deal with it today, and the
cost that would be involved. Initially the investigators will drill test
holes to determine the depth of the exposed trenches, as well as the depth
and location of any other hitherto unexposed trenches. Their report is
expected by the end of March.

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