Authorities trying to control a huge oil slick threatening Irish and Welsh coastlines were today hopeful mild weather conditions will avert an ecological disaster.
The spill in the Celtic Sea which was expected to hit land in just over two weeks time may now be pushed further offshore by changing wind patterns.
The Irish Coast Guard, which along with their British counterparts, is continuing to monitor the pollution from the skies, said the slick had not moved significantly since yesterday evening.
“The good news is that our medium range weather forecast shows the wind turning to the west, and even to the north west and north over the weekend, so that will actually push the slick further offshore and give nature some time to do its good work,” said Irish Coast Guard director Chris Reynolds.
The spill was discovered on Saturday close to where a Russian warship was refuelling and has been estimated at between 500 and 1,000 tonnes.
Ireland is continuing diplomatic contacts with Russia over the incident, which environmentalists said had the potential to devastate marine and wildlife, with knock-on effects on seaside tourism and fishing hot-spots.
An Irish tug vessel, MV Celtic Isle, was this evening preparing to carry out tests at the scene to see if the oil can be mechanically cleaned up at sea to limit its harmful impact, although such operations are known to be difficult.
Samples already taken have been sent to a laboratory in Scotland to be “finger-printed” for comparison against samples of fuel being used in the Russian aircraft carrier.
Test results expected by Friday will also help authorities determine how best to deal with the spillage, which is now around 30 miles south of the Old Head of Kinsale, Co Cork.
“It is continuing to break up and disperse naturally,” said Mr Reynolds.
“From our aerial estimations, the quantity of oil in the water appears to be anywhere between a minimum of about 500 tonnes to a maximum of about 1,000 tonnes. This is reducing with time.
“We estimate that by Monday the slick should be about 20 to 30 miles south of Ballycotton, (east Co Cork), and with the weather forecast as it is, that gives a good prognosis for nature eating up the fuel.”
The Russian Navy has already confirmed one of its carriers was refuelling at sea from a Russian supply tanker and said it was carrying out its own internal investigation.
The incident happened outside Irish territorial waters, but within an area known as Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone, which it patrols.
Ireland has set up an inter-governmental group to monitor and advise on the situation and the potential impact to the coastline and marine environment.