TANKERS whose crews are illegally flushing oil out in the open sea are

the most likely cause of dozens of oiled seabirds being washed ashore on

the Western Isles, according to an offshore expert.

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In recent weeks birds including guillemots, gannets, and kittiwakes

have been affected by oil pollution off the island of Lewis and North

Uist.

The most serious incident occurred last week when the fishing vessel

St Kilda reported large numbers of birds floating, badly oiled, off the

Butt of Lewis.

A spotter plane from the marine pollution control unit was sent over

the area but discovered no signs of an oil slick.

Mr Andy Webb, of the Nature Conservancy Council's Seabirds at Sea

team, said such incidents on the west coast were not uncommon, and

claimed it was most likely that an oil tanker flushing out its tanks was

the reason for the recent spate of oiled birds.

He said most tankers in the area travelled either to or from the giant

Sullom Voe oil terminal in Shetland where proper oil flushing facilities

are provided.

Mr Webb called for tougher legislation to be introduced to clamp down

on the practice.

Environment Secretary Mr Chris Patten, at the recent North Sea

conference in The Hague, promised stricter monitoring of shipping lanes

to attempt to reduce such illegal activity.