AD Header Dropdowns

AD Main Menu

Oil spill off Sweden's coast worst in area since 1987

Radio SwedenEye on the Arctic
Map of the September 2011 oil spill off coast of western Sweden.
Liv Widell of Radio Sweden

Rescue teams have been working around the clock to clean up an oil spill in waters off the coast of Tjörn, an island community of around 15,000 people, in southwestern Sweden.

It's the worst spill in the area since 1987.

Coastguards on nine ships are using brush skimmers to remove oil from the sea. But crews fear that strong winds on Monday afternoon could spread oil out from the shore. Meanwhile, on the coast, crews in protective suits cleaned up the fifty-centimetre thick slick, ten to fifty metres up on the small islands.

Bad-weather complicates cleanup

Authorities believe it could take until the start of next summer's tourist season before the area is safe for the public.

The oil was first spotted off the south part of the island of Tjörn last Thursday and later moved to the island's northwest.

Over two hundred tonnes of oil has been removed so far. Pumps and skimmer equipment are being used to take up the oil which was spread on the water by bad weather. On land,  a crew of 30 people, wearing special protective masks, are digging up the oil with spades along the beaches. Rescue crews from other communities in Sweden have also been called in.

An additional problem is high up on the shoreline where oil has coated rocks and must be scrubbed off manually.

Oil clean-up hazardous to human health

Carl Ian Bissmark, Chief Fire Officer at Tjörn municipality, told Radio Sweden that many islanders want to help out but it's too dangerous.

"The oil is so polluted, you cannot breathe, you get dizzy within an hour if you do not have special equipment and we are now requesting extra resources."

The municipality of Tjörn will seek compensation for the cost of the clean-up, which involves bringing in extra help from neighbouring communities as well as 20 people from the army, to scour the shoreline and see how far the oil has spread.

It's believed the oil  came from a collision between two vessels west of Denmark on September 10. Samples have been taken to compare the oil.

Tjörn is famous for its outstanding beauty and has a bird protection sanctuary.

Over 50 birds polluted by oil have been collected by a volunteer team from the nearby city of Gothenburg. Some birds could not be saved.

A rubber fence has been put along the shoreline to try and prevent the oil being blown out to sea by strong winds.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.