The oil tanker MV Braer was en route from Bergen, Norway to Quebec, Canada when it ran aground. Two days prior to the spill, the ship had suffered contamination of its fuel by sea water after cracks in the fuel lines had formed. In the early morning of January 5, the contamination became so great that the engine could no longer function. Dead in the water, the 242 metre long oil tanker, laden with 85,000 tonnes of Gulfaks crude oil, was at the mercy of the elements. And the elements were not feeling merciful.
The winds were blowing between Force 10 and 11 that night (a range from 89-117 kmh, or 55-73 mph), driving the now uncontrollable tanker towards the rocks of Sumbergh Heads. In the event, she ran aground at Garths Ness, and although a great amount of oil leaked out, the combination of the violence of the storm and the nature of the oil (Gulfaks is unusually biodegradable) dispersed the oil more quickly that might otherwise have been the case. The environmental toll was still vast and preventable, but it would only have been worse had the oil not been Gulfaks. A small mercy, perhaps, but a mercy just the same.
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