Larne’s three bathing beaches have not been impacted by the huge diesel spill at the weekend, it has been confirmed.
About 40,000 litres of red diesel made its way into the sea just north of Larne harbour after a leak at Larne’s Caterpillar factory.
A slick stretching along the coast from The Gobbins to Drains Bay could be seen clearly on Saturday morning.
With a number of seabird colonies located along the environmentally sensitive coastline, there have been fears for local marine wildlife in the aftermath of the spill – particularly in the vicinity of Larne Lough, which is classed as an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI).
And local residents have also been left wondering whether it is safe to use the popular beaches at Ballygally, Brown’s Bay and Carnlough.
Following a query from the Larne Times regarding the impact on local beaches, a spokesperson for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said: “NI Environment Agency staff have been continuing to monitor the impact since the weekend.
“The coastline from Portmuck to Carnlough was inspected on Monday, with particular attention given to the designated bathing water areas of Brown’s Bay, Ballygally and Carnlough. No oil was observed in the water or on the beaches at these locations.
“Oil was still present at the sea outfall at Glenarm Road, Larne and there was also a light sheen of oil present in the water opposite the entrance to Carnfunnock Country Park. No oil was observed in the water or on the beaches at Drains Bay or Glenarm.
“NIEA staff also carried out an inspection of the Antrim coastline by boat yesterday and no oil was observed.”
A spokesperson for Caterpillar said the firm“deeply regrets” the incident and is carrying out an investigation to “fully understand how this happened and to make any changes necessary to prevent further incidents”.
The company has employed the services of an environmental contractor to assist with the clean-up.
The circumstances of how the spill occurred and the exact amount spilled is being investigated by the NI Environment Agency.
A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs said: “The oil movement is influenced by tidal and wind conditions. NIEA staff are continuing to assess the impact and will continue to monitor the situation. NIEA has lifted samples and is continuing to gather evidence with a view to taking appropriate enforcement action.
“However, the wider recovery of diesel from the open sea is not normally practical, as light oils such as diesel spilled to sea rapidly dilute and disperse under the action of tide, currents and wave action.
“In cases where the source of pollution can be traced, the NIEA Enforcement and Prosecution team will decide on an appropriate course of action. This may include an enforcement notice, or prosecution, under the Water (Northern Ireland) Order 1999. If prosecuted in the Magistrate’s Court the maximum penalty is £20,000, in a higher court there’s an unlimited fine as a potential penalty.
“The protection of public health is the responsibility of the local Council and NIEA has been liaising closely with the council from the outset. The Council have taken steps to protect public health and NIEA is aware that the council have erected advisory signs on key local beaches.”
Reports of, or concerns about, water pollution can be reported at any time through NIEA’s 24-hour Pollution Hotline (0800 807060).
Anyone with any questions or concerns can also contact Caterpillar on 028 2826 1000.