Environmental concerns after oil spill at Rock Ferry pier

“Emergency action” is having to be taken to stop oil being spilled into the River Mersey.

A video, shared on social media, appears to show thick black oil dropping onto mud in the Mersey estuary on 28 April at a dilapidated pier in Rock Ferry following work to remove parts of the pier.

It has been confirmed that an oil spill occurred in the area last week on 25 April and the videos taken three days later appear to show a black substance on the river bank and material still leaking from a broken pipe.

The person who took the videos wishes to remain anonymous but raised concerns about the spill. He told the LDRS that oil was still dripping out of a broken pipe at the time he shot the clip, adding “the smell is horrific and stinks to high heaven of oil”.

The pier’s crane collapsed in 2019 and since then, the safety and condition of the structure has continued to worsen due to severe winter storms and vandalism.

In order to stop people climbing the structure, the Rock Ferry Maritime Hub which now owns the pier and slipway hired a contractor “to try and make it safe to prevent further collapse” and stop trespassers getting onto the pier.

The organisation has raised concerns about the condition of the pier and potential dangers to shipping and oil spill risks in the past. However as parts of the pier were taken down, it said oil left in the pipes emptied out onto the river bank which is in a protected area.

It is not currently known how much oil has entered the Mersey Estuary which is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) as “internationally important numbers of various species of waterbirds feed and roost at the site in winter, or stage at the site in spring and fall (autumn)”.

The Maritime Hub said it was not a continuous leak and work to prevent further spills had been carried out claiming the situation had been sorted by 26 April.  However, data attached to the videos of the spill sent to the LDRS show they were taken at 5.12pm on 28 April.

The Environment Agency and Peel have been asked for further clarification about when the pollution stopped. A Peel Ports spokesperson said it understands there have been no new incidents reported since 25 April.

A spokesperson for the Maritime Hub said there had been numerous incidents of trespassing since the crane collapse as more of the pier fell into the river with police and coastguards needing to be called out. The most recent incident of someone trespassing on the pier occurred in December 2023.

The organisation which was set up to regenerate the area said, “After demolishing the handrail it was agreed that to prevent anyone trespassing onto the pier the safest option would be to remove the first two sections of the pier.

“Unfortunately as one of the sections was being removed of some residual oil seeped from one of the old pipes on to the seabed and after a site inspection with the Maritime Coastguard Agency and Peel Ports it was agreed that further emergency action would be taken to cap off the pipes and remove the remaining debris.

“The pier is located on Crown land and since it is beyond economic repair and clearly not only an environmental liability but also a health and safety hazard to the river and adjoining SSSI, the Hub have been in contact with The Crown Estate with a view to demolishing the whole of the pier.”

A spokesperson for Peel Ports Group said, “Following reports on Thursday last week of oil visible from the shoreline at Rock Ferry, we immediately dispatched a marine team to assess the situation.

“It appears that some work is being undertaken by the owners of the disused oil jetty. We suspect that there has been a discharge of residual oil onto the shoreline from an old pipe on the jetty and, as the tide rises, a small quantity of oil becomes visible on the water.

“As most of the oil is stranded on the shoreline, this is being treated as a land-based incident and in full consultation with the Environment Agency and Wirral Council, we have notified the landowners of the situation so they can act swiftly and clean up the site.

“Our marine response team has also informed The Maritime and Coastguard Agency and deployed mitigation measures for the floating oil. We will continue to monitor the situation.”

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s counter-pollution team is supporting the response to the incident after being sent to investigate reports at 9.55am on 25 April. The Crown Estate has also been approached for comment.

Image: The partially collapsed pier. Credit: Rock Ferry Waterfront Trust

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