Major incident declared after oil leak in Poole

Swimmers in Dorset beauty spot warned not to enter Europe’s largest natural harbour

Poole Harbour
Poole Harbour is a site of special scientific interest and home to a variety of wading birds
(Image credit: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)

Members of the public have been warned not to swim in Poole Harbour after a major incident was declared when 200 barrels of fluid, including oil, leaked into the water.

The UK Health Security Agency said members of the public should not swim in the harbour or the surrounding area until further notice after the fluid, consisting of 85% water and 15% oil, contaminated water close to the exclusive neighbourhood of Sandbanks.

Officials added that anyone who has come into contact with the spill should immediately wash themselves with soap and water.

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The leak came from the Anglo-French oil giant Perenco’s Wytch Farm oil refinery – “the largest onshore oil field in western Europe”, said The Sun.

The site’s general manager, Franck Dy, stressed the situation is “under control”, with “the discharge of fluids having been stopped” and that a full investigation has been launched to establish what happened.

The pipeline “has been shut down and booms (barriers) have been placed on either side of the leak”, reported the Daily Echo in Bournemouth.

Poole is the “largest natural harbour in Europe”, said The Daily Telegraph, and is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest as it is home to a variety of wading birds.

Phil Broadhead, leader of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the incident was “just unacceptable. There’s no other words for this.

“When I first heard about this yesterday, clearly I was angry and disappointed. We have the second largest natural harbour in the world here, award-winning beaches, a very delicate ecosystem. So the natural reaction is always to be very worried,” he said.

Broadhead added that he hoped “we have avoided any real disaster” as “early indications are already that surface slick is dispersing”.

An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “We have received reports of a large amount of oil in Poole Harbour and we are supporting the port authority and other partners in responding to this incident.”

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Jamie Timson is the UK news editor, curating The Week UK's daily morning newsletter and setting the agenda for the day's news output. He was first a member of the team from 2015 to 2019, progressing from intern to senior staff writer, and then rejoined in September 2022. As a founding panellist on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast, he has discussed politics, foreign affairs and conspiracy theories, sometimes separately, sometimes all at once. In between working at The Week, Jamie was a senior press officer at the Department for Transport, with a penchant for crisis communications, working on Brexit, the response to Covid-19 and HS2, among others.