New oil spill clean-up equipment introduced by the UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency will operate five times faster than previous responses.
The agency recently purchased two new pieces of Norwegian-made equipment known as the NOFI Current Buster 6, which is used to collect oil floating on the surface of the water as it is towed by a boat before separating it from the water and retaining it in the system’s separator.
The equipment, tested for the first time today in Belfast Harbour, was developed following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response in 2010 and represents the latest in technological advances.
It is specially designed to be able to operate in high currents or towing speeds of up to five knots thanks to its hydrodynamic shape, which reduces the drag force of the water and allows the system to move through the seas more easily. It also has nets to catch debris, a system of wave dampers and a splash-over cover to avoid spillages.
Gail Robertson, the MCA's counter-pollution resource manager, said: "The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has a thorough response procedure in place to deal with many different types of emergencies at sea that cause pollution or threatens to cause pollution. Demonstrations like the one in Belfast Harbour today show how our equipment is fit for purpose."
The MCA is the UK authority responsible for responding to pollution from shipping and offshore installations and has recently been reviewing its preparedness for major oil spills.
Stormont environment minister Mark Durkan said: "There have been some major oil spills at sea in recent years in other parts of the world, which caused devastating damage to the marine and coastal environment and to the wider economy in those regions.
"Given that the north of Ireland imports all of its oil by sea and that several major shipping routes pass close to our coast, it is not inconceivable that a serious marine oil spill could occur on or close to our coastline.
"It is therefore vital that we tackle such incidents with the most modern of technology. The fact that we now have equipment which is five times faster in cleaning up such serious pollution is most welcome."