File photo: Greenpeace survey of oil pollution from a spill in Alaska.
The French company that owns the essel, and the French
government, say it was a terrorist attack, the Yemen authorities
say there was a fire first, which caused the explosion. No one
knows for sure. The latest reports from journalists who have been
taken to see the Limburg suggest that the explosion came from
within the tanker.
But there is an obvious point that's getting lost in the debate.
Tragedies like this one are an inevitable price paid for a world
dependent on oil.
Despite the disastrous effects of oil spills, not to mention
climate change, the global demand for oil continues to rise.
The explosion on the two-year-old tanker Limburg happened near
al-Dabah, on the southern coast of Yemen. The super tanker was
carrying almost 400,000 barrels of oil as it slowed down to bring
on board a mooring pilot being delivered by boat. Then there was a
fire, then an explosion. Or maybe there was an explosion, then a
fire. Either way, some of the crew fought the ensuing blaze for
nearly two hours. Most of them where rescued, but one Bulgarian is
Although the fire was brought under control overnight, oil is
still leaking from the ship. "Clean up" operations are reportedly
underway, but based on past results, even if modern techniques are
used, most of the oil (perhaps 80 percent) will not be
In truth, long term damage has already been done to the
ecosystem. Because of the many variables involved, it's too early
to know exactly how severe the impact of this spill will be.
Although, if the oil slicks reach the beach a the damage will be
As the US Environmental Protection Agency puts it, "For example,
marine life on reefs and shorelines is at risk of being smothered
by oil that washes ashore or of being slowly poisoned by long-term
exposure to oil trapped in shallow water or on beaches."
Whether the result of a terrorist attack, a drunken captain
running a ship aground, or an accident in foul weather, the only
certain route to stopping oil spills and a truly secure energy
future is through clean, renewable energy.