HC Deb 21 March 1991 vol 188 cc215-7W
Mr. Dalyell

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the work of his marine pollution control unit in relation to the Gulf.

Mr. McLoughlin

The marine pollution control unit (MPCU) has contributed to the response to the Gulf oil spill in a variety of ways in conjunction with the Department of the Environment (DOE) which has led on behalf of the Government.

In response to a Saudi Arabian request on 27 January the MPCU facilitated the movement of 90 tonnes of oil containment booms and skimmers from the commercial oil spill service centre at Southampton to Dhahran in Ministry of Defence chartered freight aircraft on 28, 29 and 30 January.

On 28 January the Saudi Arabian Government requested the provision by the United Kingdom of two counter-pollution experts to assist their meteorology and environmental protection administration in responding to the spill. These were immediately provided by the MPCU—one MPCU scientist and another contracted by the MPCU from the DTI Warren Spring laboratory. After the necessary inoculations and training in personal anti-chemical warfare protection the experts arrived in Dhahran on 31 January. They assisted in the creation of a counter-pollution command and control organisation, checked and advised on the boom protection of seawater intakes to desalination plants and important economic sites, and advised on the identification and protection of important coastal ecological sites including plans to be implemented as equipment was made available. On-site reports relayed by these experts direct to the MPCU and thence to the DOE have provided a source of detailed information on the slick and the response to it which has been of great value to the assessment by the Government of the overall situation.

On completion of the initial phase, these scientists were replaced on 15 February by the MPCU chief scientist to provide advice on the selection of disposal sites for recovered oil, spill movement prediction, and the short and long-term recovery of contaminated shores. In response to a request for assistance by the Bahraini Government he also visited Bahrain, to advise on ways in which Her Majesty's Government could help in the event that the oil might reach the Bahraini coast. This led to the gift by Her Majesty's Government of specialist oil recovery equipment—recommended by the MPCU—to the Government of Bahrain. On completion of these tasks and after agreement with the Saudi Arabian authorities, he returned to the United Kingdom on 1 March.

Since 29 January the MPCU has also acted as the co-ordination centre for commercial offers of counter-pollution personnel and equipment from British companies to assist with the oil spill. These have been passed on, as appropriate, to Gulf states via the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), which has been asked by the Saudi Arabian Government to act as a clearing house for all international offers of this kind.

The MPCU has provided technical advice to DOE throughout the incident and more recently, the unit has also advised IMO on various clean-up strategies which have been proposed by the Saudi Arabian control centre and which might be supported by the IMO fund to which Her Majesty's Government have contributed £1 million.