A giant inflatable counter-pollution kit named the Current Buster 6 has been deployed as part of a major exercise to test the UK’s capability to tackle oil spills.
Staff from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) were given practice in setting up the oil containment and recovery system from the fishery patrol vessel Ocean Osprey in Portland Harbour, Dorset, although no pollutant has been used during the exercise.
Other equipment being used during the five-day exercise included off-shore booms, skimmers and specialist oil containment kit.
The Norwegian-designed Current Buster 6, which is nearly 40 metres long with a 27-metre-wide mouth, is capable of collecting 64 tonnes of oil which can then be skimmed off and pumped into storage leaving the cleaned water to flow back into the sea.
It has never been used for a spill in UK waters but has been deployed in other European countries and to tackle incidents in Angola and Sri Lanka.
Stan Woznicki, MCA head of counter pollution and salvage, told the PA news agency: “The training exercise is here to test our equipment is working properly, to train the crews and educate the salvage team on how we do our business and our pollution response strategies.”
Explaining the Current Buster, he added: “We tow it through the water, the water is collected between the arms, the oil is concentrated in the back part and we put a recovery device or skimmer that takes the oil out of the water and into storage.
“Instead of using several devices that take more time and (are) more complex, this is a single device that can collect, contain and recover the oil all in one foul swoop and keep going.
“And because it’s a one-piece system it’s also remarkably manoeuvrable and therefore you can cover more sea surface more quickly and recover the oil more quickly.
“We have never had to use it in anger, we have only used it for training, a lot of our coastal neighbours have used it when they have been unfortunate to have large spills.
“We have been lucky not to have one since the Sea Empress in 1996, which was before Current Buster, but I am happy to have it as an insurance policy.”
Zal Rustom, chief executive of Ambipar Response Ltd, the primary contractor working with the MCA during the exercise, said: “This is our national exercise with the MCA for a heavy-equipment deployment.
“Oil spill response and clean-up is one of those things that we have to work with nature, we do the best we can, we recover as much as possible, leaving as little in the environment as possible but the efficiency of any piece of equipment is down to what nature is going to throw at us.
“But an exercise like this makes it a lot easier to deploy and much more effective when it’s in the water.”
Exercise director Jerry Connors, from Her Majesty’s Coastguard, said: “We continue to carry out training at this level because we know how vital it is if we need to react to a real incident at any time.
“Training in this kind of environment helps to familiarise everyone with the equipment and build the kind of relationships between groups and organisations that will matter even more if the worst should happen.”