Ulster Wildlife has declared that an oil slick involving about 40,000 litres of red diesel off the Antrim coast has the potential to be “devastating” .
Andy Crory, nature reserves manager with the group, spoke out as the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) said that recovering diesel is “not normally practical”.
The Caterpillar engineering plant in Larne has already admitted that the spill into Larne lough stems from its facility. The slick could be smelled across the region at the weekend.
Mr Crory told the Larne Times: “The diesel spill could have potentially devastating impacts on breeding birds.
“We have carried out an immediate spot check along this part of the coast and have found no injured birds so far, but will be keeping a close eye on the situation by liaising with local fishermen and birdwatchers.”
The NIEA said that diesel will usually “dilute and disperse under the action of tide, currents and wave action”.
Asked what powers it has at its disposal to try and punish those suspected of being responsible for pollution, the NIEA said “appropriate action” could include an enforcement notice or prosecution under the Water (Northern Ireland) Order 1999.
It said that “if prosecuted in the magistrate’s court the maximum penalty is £20,000, in a higher court there’s an unlimited fine”.
The Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has asked anyone who sees animals caught in the oil to call them on (028)30251000.