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The Braer Disaster - Shetland 5th Jan 1993


Guest Viking141
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Guest Viking141

On this day in 1993 the Liberian registered tanker "Braer" ran aground on the coast of Shetland in hurricane force winds. The tanker was on its way from Mongstad in Norway to Canada laded with 84,000 tonnes of Crude Oil from the Gullfaks oil field, when it lost engine power and started to drift in Force 11 winds, whilst transiting the Fair Isle Channel.

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At 0519 that morning the master, Captain Alexandris Gelis, contacted Shetland Coastguard and informed them that he had lost engine power but was in no immediate dagner. She was approximately 10nm south of Sumburgh Head, drifting in SW Force 10-11 winds. AS a precaution Coastguard Rescue Helicopter "Oscar Charlie" based at Sumburgh Airport and RAF Rescue helicopter Rescue 137 based at RAF Lossiemouth were alerted and the Coastguard made enquiries about the availability of tugs in the area. At the Coastguards suggestion the master agreed to have non-essential personnel removed from the vessel and at 0825, 14 of the 34 man crew were airlifted by "Oscar Charlie."

By 0850 it was becoming apparrent that the tanker would ground on Horse Island and the Coastguard began strenuous efforts to persuade the master to abndon ship, which he eventually did and the remaining crew were airlifted off, however, due to the extremely strong NW currents which overcame the force of the prevailing winds, the vessel missed Horse Island and headed for Quendale Bay, on the SW coast of Shetland.

Meantime the anchor handling vessel Star Sirius had arrived on scene and attempted to establish a tow. The master and some of the crew were returned to the vessel by helicopter but efforts to secure the line were unsuccessful. At 1119 the vessel was confirmed as being aground and the crew were again airlifted off. Over the next few days the vessel started to break up and spill its entire cargo. The damage, however, was not as bad as it could have been for two reasons. Firstly Gullfaks crude is much lighter and more biodegradable than most North Sea Crude and secondly, that year saw some of the worst storms in Shetlands history, with no fewer than 18 days in the month seeing winds of Gale Force or above. A total of 1538 bird corpses were recoverd during the cleanup operation. Numerous properties on local crofts were also damaged by the oil spray which eat into their roofswhich were usually covered in felt.

As a result of the Braer Disaster, the Governmen initated en enquiry headed by Lord Donaldson, his report entitled "Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas" made numerous recommendations which have resulted in the permanent stationing of four "Emergency Towing Vessels" (ETV's) around the UK coast, 1 in the Fair Isle Channel, 1 in The Minches (Western Isles), 1 in the South Western Approaches and 1 at Dover. The Coastguard also now has "Powers of Intervention" ivensted in the Secretary of States Representative (SOSREP - currently Robin Middleton) to comple the Master/Owners of a vessel to take a tow at their own cost, regadless of whether they want to or not). Whilst largely blaming the atrocious weather conditions for the disaster, the Captain was singled out as having a "fundamental lack of basic seamanship."

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