In May 2012 a Ministry of Defence (MOD) team from Salvage and Marine Operations, supported by environmental scientists from RPS Consultants, visited St Helena to survey the wreck of the RFA Darkdale and the surrounding James’ Bay.
The subsequent MOD report and recommendations for SHG are published today and have all been accepted, including a recommendation that the remaining oil be removed from the wreck at the earliest opportunity. The MOD has secured funding for the oil removal and we will now work with MOD and FCO to implement the recommendations, all of which are designed to safeguard St Helena’s precious marine environment for the future.
The RFA Darkdale was a fleet fuel tanker stationed at St Helena in World War II. In October 1941, she was attacked and sunk by a U-Boat in James’ Bay and since that time she has been slowly seeping oil – visible as a light sheen over the wreck site. A large oil leak in 2010 caused the Island’s Governor at the time, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the MOD (as owner of the wreck) to call for a formal survey of the wreck.
The outcome of the survey report showed that the wreck of the RFA Darkdale lies in two parts. The stern section lies on its port side and has suffered substantial torpedo damage. The bow section lies inverted and is in very good condition given the age of the wreck and the time submerged. This bow section is estimated to contain between 2,326 and 4,952 m3 of oil.
The survey found that there were generally low levels of hydrocarbon contamination in water samples taken at the wreck site. Sediment samples were comparably more contaminated and levels of various hydrocarbon compounds exceeded Environmental Quality Standards (EQS). The majority of the fish samples taken at the wreck site were found to contain low level hydrocarbon contamination and approximately 10% of the fish/shellfish sampled exceeded the relevant EQSs and may be a hazard to human health if consumed.
The wreck continues to corrode and the eventual release of the oil is inevitable unless action is taken to remove oil from the wreck. The environmental study into the potential effects of a large oil spill found that that there would be short term lethal risk to inshore fish species, and oil persisting in the environment would further hinder the recovery of these species, potentially causing long term sub-lethal effects.
Following the survey and subsequent analysis and review of the wreck, the team has now produced a report with the following recommendations, that:
- The remaining oil on the wreck is removed
- St Helena Government prohibits anchoring within 200m of the wreck site
- SHG imposes a fishing ban over the wreck and its immediate area
- A larger sample of fish from a wider area should be taken and analysed for hydrocarbon contamination
- A long term programme of fish and environmental monitoring is set up
A full copy of the Report, including the introductory Executive Summary, can be found at:
Head of the Environmental Management Division, Ben Sansom said:
“We fully support the recommendations in the report and will provide all the local knowledge and assistance required by the MOD to ensure the continued protection of our marine environment.
“We are particularly pleased to see that there is a recommendation to remove the oil from the wreck, which will ensure that in the long term there are no legacy contamination risks from the RFA Darkdale.”
Andy Liddell of the MOD’s Salvage & Marine Operations branch, who led the survey, added:
“The MOD intends to remove the oil from the wreck and planning is underway to achieve this. We are also commissioning a detailed study in to the possible contamination of fish and will work closely with St Helena Government on this study.”
Previously, concern had also been raised that unexploded ordnance was scattered across the bay, causing a hazard to visiting ships and yachts. The outcome of the survey showed that while there were a small number of shells on or very close to the wreck, there was no evidence of ordnance being scattered more widely across the bay.
SHG will now work with FCO, MOD and other stakeholders to implement all of the recommendations, and further updates will be provided in due course.
3 December 2013