Probe after fuel spill at Strangford Lough

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The NI Environment Agency has launched an investigation following a fuel spill in Strangford Lough today.

A boat that sank in the lough is reported to have been carrying several around 1,000 litres of diesel in its fuel tanks.

The vessel had been tied up at the quayside near Cook Street in Portaferry, Co Down.

Strangford Lough has been designated a Marine Nature Reserve (MNR) and also contains a number of Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI).

The Exploris Aquarium at Portaferry and a marine laboratory attached to Queen’s University nearby have both closed their sea intake as a precaution.

An NIEA water quality inspector has been at the scene since this morning.

AN NIEA spokesperson said: “Diesel is a light oil which spreads rapidly when spilt on water. Wind and tidal action will aid evaporation and dispersion. The situation will be kept under review to determine if any remedial measures are necessary or practicable given the strong currents in the vicinity of Cook Street.

“The NIEA Water Management Unit and DAERA Marine and Fisheries Division are working closely with Ards and North Down Borough Council and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in response to the sinking of this vessel.

“Ards and North Down Borough Council have called in specialist consultants in oil clean-up to manage the response to the incident. All the relevant authorities and marine businesses have been alerted.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for RSPB Northern Ireland said: “Strangford Lough is an important place for all sorts of wildlife at this time of year, from seals and seabirds to wintering wildfowl like Brent geese.

“RSPB NI owns an area of tidal mudflats, known as Castleward Bay, which is approximately 1km west from the spill site. However, given the quantity and type of oil involved in this incident, this area is unlikely to be affected.

“The potential impact of any oil spill is concerning but, having liaised with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, we are confident that the correct procedures are in place to minimise the risk to the environment and local wildlife.”