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Joan Edwards

Joan Edwards is the Head of Living Seas at The Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts.

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PIB investigation fails to identify ship concerned

Posted: Thursday 22nd August 2013 by LivingSeas

Following the needless deaths of thousands of birds in two separate pollution incidents, involving a form of Polyisobutene (PIB) earlier this year, we were pleased to hear that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) was carrying out a thorough investigation with the view to prosecute those involved.

However, we were greatly disappointed to receive notification this week which stated that ‘it has not been possible to identify the source of the contamination’ and as such prosecution will not be possible.

This is incredibly frustrating and concerning, as it raises the question as to whether the system the UK currently has in place for dealing with Hazardous and Noxious Substance incidents is fit for purpose.

Whilst we are pleased that the MCA is currently conducting an internal review of procedures we would urge that we need to move toward a system which can adequately carry out surveillance and respond as required with appropriate procedures in place for gathering evidence in order to bring about prosecution. With new variants of PIB coming onto the market and additional tank cleaning chemicals being discharged at the same time, in what is currently ‘legal’ practice it also draws into question serious health and safety concerns for wildlife responders dealing with any incident, especially, if there are delays or difficulties in identifying the chemical substance involved.

Samples taken from seabirds and analysed as part of the investigation were found to be a ‘chemically distinct form of PIB from that commonly shipped’. We are pleased that in light of this finding the UK plans to approach the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to determine whether it is being carried appropriately on ships. Earlier in the year we jointly (with other environmental charities) urged the IMO to reclassify PIB and its variants to make it ‘illegal’ to discharge any amount into the marine environment – this is now more important than ever, otherwise we worry that we’ll be facing a similar situation next winter when the birds are rafting out at sea once more and shipping is once again tank cleaning off our shores.

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