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Sir Alexander Glen, 6 February 1988

On 6 February 1988 the Hong Kong registered bulk carrier Sir Alexander Glen lost approximately 450 tonnes of heavy fuel oil into the waters off Port Walcott, Western Australia when a bunker tank was holed by the ship's anchor.

After the anchor was raised at 10 am, in preparation for the ship to berth, crew on board the tug boat Roebourne, reported oil escaping from the port bow of the bulk carrier in an area of shell plating just above the waterline. The berthing was aborted and the vessel was turned back to sea in an effort to confine the oil spill and use the ship's wash to disperse the slick.

The wind was increasing to more than 30 knots east-north-east and the effect of the wash on the oil was observed to have minimal benefit.

The vessel was then returned to anchor and the tugs Roebourne and Wickham were requested to attempt to break up the slick. After inspection of the damage, the mooring boat Samson was asked to proceed with wedges and canvas to attempt a temporary repair. With a very rough sea building and with wind gusts exceeding 40 knots, the crew of the Samson managed to reduce the flow by an estimated 50 per cent. Several members of the mooring boat crew were saturated with the oil, requiring first-aid treatment or hospitalisation. However, after a short time the temporary repair came free and oil again discharged into the sea.

The Sir Alexander Glen was immediately taken out to sea until an oil transfer from the damaged tank had been completed. The crew of the Sir Alexander Glen also used oil dispersant via a fire hose directed onto the leaking oil in an attempt to disperse the oil at source. This was successful and continued until the oil level in the tank was below the level of the hole.

At 12.35 the State Counter Disaster Plan was activated, however the weather was considered unsuitable for immediate spraying of dispersant. A Department of Marine and Harbours’ patrol vessel arrived from Karratha and was sent to break up the inshore slick.

After advice from the EPA, spraying of oil dispersant was undertaken the following day in calmer conditions in an attempt to prevent the slicks coming ashore on the flood tide.

Oil was first reported as coming ashore between the Cape Lambert power station and Cape Lambert on Sunday 7 February at 12.50 pm. This was found to be mainly patches of tar with some oil. Oil was also reported on the northern tip of Bezout Island, and at 2 pm there were large amounts of tar balls reported on the beach at Point Samson. The fishing vessels Moonlight Creek and Jess Lyn were chartered to assist with the distribution of 28 x 200 L drums of oil spill dispersant. Dispersant spraying operations continued up until 3 pm when it was determined that the remaining oil was in water that was too shallow.

At 8 am on Monday 8 February it was reported that the area around Cape Lambert was the worst affected. This area had large amounts of oil in the rock pools and the mangroves, and a number of tar balls on the beaches. Bezout Island was particularly hard hit, with patches of oil on the rocks on the eastern side. The two main recreational beaches off Point Samson and Boat Beach were lightly fouled with a band of tar at the high water mark approximately 15 centimetres wide. Due to their popularity, these beaches were cleaned immediately. Oil and tar balls continued to come ashore on Monday and during the following week. Inspections of all the beaches showed advanced weathering in some areas, where the oil on the rocks had lost its sheen and was turning to the matt colour and consistency of pitch. The tar balls in the sand were becoming harder and could be removed easily. The clean up of the beaches continued until Friday with the public access beaches from Point Samson to Black Tank Beach being cleaned with mechanical equipment and rakes.

Outcome

The sea temperature at that time of year was approximately 30 degrees celsius and the air temperature reached 40 degrees celsius. These conditions proved very effective in naturally dispersing the lighter ends of the oil. This, combined with the rough weather conditions, caused the oil to break-up at a faster rate than would normally be expected.

The tidal flow, which mainly runs parallel to the coast, also assisted in keeping the oil off shore during the early stages of the spill, providing more time for dispersal operations to take place and a natural break-up to have effect.

The cost of the clean-up operation was estimated at around A$100,000.

Related information

Read about Australia's National Plan for Maritime Environmental Emergencies.

Last updated: 

Thursday 30 August 2018