A major marine and environmental operation to remove remaining oil in the wreck of RFA Darkdale in James’ Bay – led by the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) – will commence mobilisation in Cape Town on 1 June 2015.  Three vessels will be readied for the operation and the salvage group – including a team of Royal Navy divers – is expected to arrive at St Helena around Thursday 25 June, possibly a day or two earlier if mobilisation goes well.  The team plans to complete all phases of the work in James’ Bay by 1 August, with some flex built in to cover adverse weather and technical issues.

On 2 December 2013, the recommendations of an MOD report were published and accepted – including a recommendation that the remaining oil be removed from the wreck.  Since then, MOD, FCO and SHG have worked to bring the operation together – all designed to safeguard St Helena’s precious marine environment for the future.  Given the scale of the operation and St Helena’s remote location, planning for this work has taken some time.  Up to 5000 cubic metres of oil is believed to remain in the wreck and this will now be removed.

The team will be led by Project Director Andy Liddell of MOD’s Salvage & Marine Operations division, supported by Jim Griffiths, MOD Project Manager, and James Brewin, Project Director of  prime contractor Swire Salvage. A team of UK Royal Navy divers, lead by Lieutenant Oliver Shepherd, will initially clear ammunition that is on and adjacent to the up-turned hull of the wreck prior to commencing the operation.

The contract awarded to Swire Salvage is to the value of £6.87m which – as the owners of the wreck – is being paid by the UK Ministry of Defence.

Andy Liddell said:

‘The wreck of the Darkdale first came to our attention in 2010 and I am pleased that we are now taking positive action to remove oil from the wreck and minimise the risk of pollution to the beautiful Island of St Helena.

Head of the Environmental Management Division, Ben Sansom said:

‘We welcome this operation, which will ensure the protection of our wonderful marine environment from this legacy pollution risk. The removal of the oil from the wreck will ensure that in the long term there are no ongoing pollution risks from the RFA Darkdale.

‘In the meantime, EMD will continue to provide local knowledge and assistance when requested by the MOD.’ 

The majority of the work will be carried out from the Pacific Diligence, a large offshore support vessel.  In addition, there will be an oil tanker and a smaller offshore support vessel to assist with other tasks, including laying the moorings for the tanker.

The oil will be removed by divers and remotely operated vehicles from the Pacific Diligence, using a technique known as hot tapping, involving the fixing of valves to the hull and pumping of oil without leakage to the marine environment.  At the end of the task, the valves will remain on the hull, but otherwise the wreck will remain unaffected. The removed oil will be pumped onto the tanker and taken for safe disposal.

The MOD team has said that although outside of UK waters – and therefore not protected in statute in the same way as some of the wrecks around the UK coastline – the Darkdale is the final resting place of the majority of her crew and will be treated with utmost respect.

Andy Liddell will be delivering a talk on the operation whilst on St Helena (details to follow).

Notes for Editors

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.

The wreck of the 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 section is estimated to contain between 2,326 and 4,952 cubic metres of oil.   The 2012 survey also 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.

The wreck continues to corrode and the eventual release of the oil is inevitable unless this action is taken to remove oil from the wreck.

The most recent background to this operation began in 2010, when the Darkdale leaked a larger than normal amount of oil.  Following representations from SHG asking for action to be taken to protect the Island from pollution, MOD surveyed the wreck in 2012 and found that there was likely to be a significant amount of oil remaining on the wreck (see detailed 2012 report on the SHG website at: 


14 April 2015


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