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Braer

Twenty years ago this week the oil tanker MV Braer went aground in Shetland in a violent storm. I had been in the Shetland Isles the previous year photographing a dive business and some other tourism material for a hotelier friend, and had been astonished at the richness of the island’s marine environment, and was appalled at the potential damage this disaster could cause. However the relatively light Gulfaks crude oil was pulverised by the same ferocious waves that had driven the Braer aground, thus hastening the process of biodegrading. The very storm that caused the disaster was the islands’ saviour, such was the ferocity of the weather in the days following the spill. But as with all of these events around the world, the environmental consequences and longer term  impact on the marine ecosystem are harder to establish.

My modest personal response all those years ago was a short ‘angry poem’ that sought to hint at the unseen effect of such a spill, what might be going on hidden from our gaze. But if you want a view of what definitely went on above the surface I can heartily recommend a visit to the Document Scotland site where there is an excellent series of photographs illustrating the event, with some familiar  (and some not so familiar) images from Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, Tom Kidd, and Richard Baker, all of whom covered aspects of the spill as the Braer foundered, and recorded the subsequent clean-up efforts by national and local environmental groups and individuals.

Well worth a look, and might bring back memories for those of you of a certain age.

Braer
Ripple-still and smooth the ocean lies
before, a hell was here
of grinding steel on rock
a savage sea of gale-whipped froth
to smother, then to tear apart
the best that men can build
from stately steel and hope.
 
Deep down below the dark drops fall
black rain in a world of wet
to enter mouth and gill and blood…
and then, high above
the first birds swoop
their birthright claim expressed
with yellowed beak and gut.
 
The sticky whirl of wellspew black
descends and rises with a rainbow sheen
playing in the tidal swirl
a game
of chase
and tig
and catches
us….
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