ECE, the chemical tanker currently listing in the English Channel between Start Point and Guernsey is unlikely to pose a health risk to recreational water users believes Surfers Against Sewage (SAS).

The phosphoric acid contained on board is classified as a category D chemical (lowest category of MARPOL's s Annex II prevention of Pollution By Chemicals Rating). This would present a recognisable hazard to either marine resources or human health, but due to the buffering effect of the ocean (from the presence of carbon dioxide dissolved within it) any change to the pH in the sea will be reduced. Added to this, the effects of diffusion and dispersion should mean that any leaked acid should not pose a significant threat.

Chemical tanker accidents can however cause significant environmental damage and are a far greater pollution threat than that of crude oil. With shipping disasters in crude oil already causing so much environmental damage over the past 40 years a major chemical tanker spill could be devastating.

The ECE chemical tanker is registered in the Marshall Islands - a Flag of Convenience country. A flag of convenience ship is one that flies the flag of a country other than the country of ownership. Cheap registration fees, low or no taxes and freedom to employ cheap labour are often the motivating factors behind a shipowner's decision to 'flag out' (International Transport Federation). Many shipping accident that lead to pollution have involved ships operating under flags of convenience. Richard Hardy, SAS Campaigns Director says: "It looks like this incident shouldn't result in lasting environmental damage but it does again act as a reminder of just how busy the UK's shipping lanes are and that we remain vulnerable to a bigger pollution incident unless radical improvements are made in making shipping safer".

Check out the 2005/2006 Surfers Against Sewage campaign film at:

The film covers all our campaign topics and includes footage from recent actions.

Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), Wheal Kitty Workshops, St Agnes, Cornwall, TR5 0RD. Tel: 01872 555950 (campaign office)