CAMPAIGNS: JUDGE AND JURY; Let’s have the names of who will go down with this ship

The owners of the Sea Empress did amazingly well in keeping their names out of the headlines says Chris Laming, director of communications, Stena Line

The owners of the Sea Empress did amazingly well in keeping their names

out of the headlines says Chris Laming, director of communications,

Stena Line

As crises go, the Sea Empress supertanker disaster had a bit of

everything. As the huge ship wallowed off Milford Haven, spewing its

crude all over the wildlife, the ensuing drama gave rise to masses of

TV, pages of editorial reportage, analysis, graphics and pictures. We

had political outrage, environmental outrage, David Bellamy, even a

Chinese waiter called in to interpret for a tug crew.

We had the Daily Telegraph’s leader writers telling us the whole thing

was a PR coup for organisations such as Greenpeace and the Guardian’s

picture of two members of the ‘Texaco Natural History Club’ rescuing

sea birds, just in case we’d forgotten how caring oil company employees

really can be.

There were early references to one of the major oil companies as the

owners of the oil, but not the ship, as they quickly pointed out. So I

kept wondering who did own the vessel. It turned out to be John

Fredriksen and his Cyprus-based Seatankers group; (facts I gleaned from

the shipping newspaper Lloyds’ List). Another company you’ve never heard

of, this time from Glasgow, was responsible for managing the vessel and

their spokesman did do a couple of TV interviews on the salvage

operation. Nobody, though, attempted to hang him out to dry, which is

what normally happens to shipping lines when things go so badly wrong -

the owners were never in the limelight.

Of course we are not talking about a household name but I bet you a

million gallons of the finest four-star that if, for example, the vessel

had been operated by Shell, things would have been different. We’d have

had flashbacks to Brent Spar, boycotts of the pumps, protest rallies in

Germany and top Shell executives being pasted all over Newsnight.

While Exxon are proba bly still smarting from the Valdiz disaster all

those years ago, the owners of Sea Empress are already through the worst

of it by now. Their losses will be largely financial and their 11

remaining tankers will continue to trade.

But what about the other players involved? Shipping minister Lord

Goschen was certainly struggling under the slick of bad feeling which

floated his way and took the rap prior to any forthcoming formal


The salvors came out badly despite the efforts of the man from the

Marine Pollution Control Unit who gave a credible performance on the

nightly bulletins.

The environmentalists did well, the seabirds didn’t, and the shipping

company benefited from its foreign ownership and anonymity. The

ultimate ‘no comment’ as one journalist chum of mine put it.

The moral for all oil companies must be to get someone we’ve never heard

of to run your tanker fleets for you.

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