Oil-leak tug skipper three times over alcohol limit
THE master of an emergency coastguard tug, designed to help prevent oil spills, was drunk in charge of the vessel when it ran aground off Shetland, causing the biggest pollution incident in British waters since the Braer disaster 13 years ago.
The grounding led to 84 tonnes of marine diesel fuel spilling into the sea, and left authorities with a clean-up and repair bill of more than 3 million.
Peter Leask, 42, of Leaside, Mossbank, Shetland, appeared at Lerwick Sheriff Court yesterday and admitted being more than three times pver the legal alcohol limit when his vessel, the Anglian Sovereign, ran aground on 3 September last year outside Scalloway Harbour. Leask also admitted two other charges of causing pollution and refloating the ship after the collision before assessing the damage.
The court was told that Leask had been in charge of the 2,258-tonne vessel, which was chartered to patrol the Northern Isles by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in 2000 following a recommendation by Lord Donaldson's inquiry into the Braer oil spill.
After drinking on board, Leask had allowed the vessel to ram the rocks off Scalloway at full steam. The 13 crew on the vessel had to be airlifted to safety. But, once the crew had been rescued and Leask was left alone on the bridge, he drunkenly reversed the tug off the rocks and sailed her into Scalloway harbour, leaking fuel all the way.
Duncan Mackenzie, procurator fiscal, told the court that the night before the incident Leask had been drinking at a Scalloway bar and had been driven back to the ship by the landlady, taking a carry-out of a bottle of rum, a bottle of Coke and eight cans of lager.
The following morning Leask took the vessel out to sea. By mid-day he appeared to have been drinking and his speech was slurred. When Leask took over the bridge at 8pm, the chief officer detected "an extremely overpowering smell of mouthwash" from the skipper.
Mr Mackenzie said: "The environmental damage of this incident has been described as significant. A number of birds in the high double figures were contaminated and required cleaning. The air in Scalloway was severely affected by diesel fumes, causing short-term effects on human health in terms of headaches and nausea."
The clean-up cost 40,000, but the damage to the vessel cost a further 1.3 million to repair. Another 1.7 million was spent in ancillary costs caused by the incident.
Mr Mackenzie claimed: "This was an incident which came within a hair's breadth of being a human disaster. It's also difficult to escape the irony that this vessel, having the specific role of preventing pollution, caused environmental damage in such a fashion."
The court was told that Leask had been sacked since the incident and had been unable to get a job at sea.
Sheriff Graeme Napier deferred sentence until 19 April for social inquiry reports.
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Saturday 18 May 2013
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