Fury as bird death inquiry is dropped
Investigators have been criticised for dropping an inquiry into the UK's worst seabird pollution disaster in decades after admitting they have not been able to locate the ship responsible.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) announced yesterday it had ended its search for the vessel or vessels responsible for causing the disaster that saw more than 4,000 birds washed up on Westcountry beaches covered in a glue-like substance earlier this year.
It was estimated that around 3,500 birds, mostly guillemots, were killed and a further 500 rescued in the incident which first occurred in February and then again in April and May.
The substance responsible was identified by experts as polyisobutylene, or PIB, a glue-like lubricating additive typically found in engine oils.
It had been hoped that an investigation would lead to the prosecution of the ship responsible for discharging the substance, which can currently be released legally under certain conditions, but those hopes were dashed by the MCA announcement.
Alec Taylor, from the RSPB, said it was "extremely disappointed" that the culprits had not been found.
He said: "Some re-evaluation needs to be done into how we respond to incidents of this kind. The MCA needs to conduct a thorough review of the steps for dealing with non-oil pollution incidents. In the longer term, the best way to avoid this sort of incident is to prevent PIB's discharge in any quantities."
The MCA said it had collected data from all the vessels that passed through the region and looked through their detailed cargo manifests. A spokesman for the organisation said: "Despite the vast amount of information gathered, the MCA has not been able to obtain the evidence needed to link the pollution to any specific vessel. Unless new information comes to light, the investigation is now closed."
Dead and ailing birds started appearing on Devon, Dorset and Cornwall beaches in February, with the grim figure topping the 1,900 contaminated or killed following the beaching of the ship MSC Napoli off the Devon coast in 2007.
Sheryll Murray MP, for South East Cornwall, said the agency didn't have evidence that would have stood up in a prosecution. She said: "They did get as far as focusing on 16 ships, but they didn't get further because there were no independent witnesses."