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The River Hamble Harbour Authority

Refuelling, fuel spills and the environment

As many users of the River may have noticed there has been a definite increase in the amount of fuel found floating in the River. The spilt fuel has been traced on many occasions to the refuelling operations carried out at the fuelling barges. Unfortunately it has been impossible to gather evidence for a prosecution mainly because of a lack of continuity of evidence and not having reliable witnesses.

The Harbour Authority is aware of the problem and has been monitoring and has intervened on a number of occasions. One of the biggest problem is that skippers do not let the professional pump attendant operate the hose on the vessel. It has always been standard practice to pass the nozzle to the skipper or crew member to allow them to refuel the boat. This practice is followed all over Europe as well as the UK.

There are a number of actions that the Authority is taking to help overcome the problem. We believe that education and guidance is a better route than taking people to court with all the cost involved in such a prosecution. I am not saying we will definitely not go down such a route, as we will but our first action is to educate River users.

When you see oil and fuel on the water with an iridescent/rainbow appearance it means it has spread out to a layer that only one molecule thick. This means that one litre of fuel will quickly spread out across an area larger than the equivalent of a tennis court.

Oil and fuel pollution not only harms birds and mammals but it can also remove vital oxygen from the water itself therefore having the potential to effect fish and invertebrates.

Most importantly, if a spill does occur, boaters are advised not to use detergents to clear the oil, as this can further harm the environment and wildlife. The best thing to do is have a small supply of absorbent material available, but remember the fuel-soaked or oily materials are classified as a hazardous waste. This type of oily waste can be disposed of in the oily waste facilities provided by the Harbour Office and some marinas.

After discussions with the fuelling station operators we have erected signage with advice and warnings. The pump attendants will draw attention to the signs which are very explicit and directly to the point with the following information:

  • The skipper is responsible
  • Establish how much fuel is required
  • Establish which tank is to be filled
  • Monitor tank overflow during refuelling
  • Monitor fuelling operation at all times
  • Do not overfill
  • Any person contaminating the waters of the harbour are liable for prosecution under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 and the River Hamble bye-laws
  • The Harbour Authority will prosecute polluters

There are a number of other actions that the Harbour Authority are moving forward with which are, the Authority will putting up smaller notice board signs in yacht clubs and marinas to draw owners attention to the problem, Port Hamble are investigating an innovation in recovering fuel from around the fuelling pontoon which they may invest more money on if the trial is successful and harbour patrols will be spending more time in the vicinity of the refuelling stations.

Another worrying source of contamination are the effects of pumping dirty bilges into the River. Unfortunately such incidents can occur during periods when the boat has been left unattended and the automatic bilge pump is left on. Such incidents are not so frequent but boat owners should be aware that a prosecution might be likely. Regardless of all the above it comes down to the person operating the nozzle, normally the skipper of the boat - more care is required.

As I am sure all mooring holders are aware the River is a very important location for wildlife, which must be protected for the future, therefore please, please be careful and report any incidents to the harbour office as soon as possible.