MV Braer

Coordinates: 59°53′00″N 1°21′00″W / 59.88333°N 1.35000°W / 59.88333; -1.35000
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OwnerBraer Corporation
OperatorCanadian Ultramar Ltd
BuilderOshima Shipbuilding Co Ltd, Nagasaki, Japan
Launched31 May 1975
HomeportMonrovia,  Liberia
IdentificationIMO number7377220
FateRan aground near Quendale, Shetland, Scotland, in 1993
General characteristics
TypeOil tanker
Tonnage89,730 DWT
Length241.51 m
Draft14.15 m
Installed powerSumitomo-Sulzer 7RND90 (20,300 bhp)
PropulsionSingle shaft; fixed pitch propeller
Speed14.5 knots (26.9 km/h; 16.7 mph)
Crew34 (on last voyage)

The MV Braer was an oil tanker which ran aground during a storm off Shetland, Scotland, in January 1993, and nearly a week later broke up during the most intense extratropical cyclone on record for the northern Atlantic Ocean, the Braer Storm of January 1993.

Design and history[edit]

The MV Braer was originally launched as the Hellespoint Pride and was constructed by Oshima Shipbuilding Company in 1975. The Braer was originally owned by Tucana Shipping Company of Singapore before being purchased by the Hancock Shipping Company registered in Monrovia when she was renamed Brae Trader. She was named Braer when she was acquired by the Braer Corporation in 1990.[1]

Reason for ship's loss[edit]

During the enquiry after the ship's loss, it was stated that the ship lost power due to seawater contamination of the ship's heavy fuel oil on 3 January. This occurred after a pipeline on the deck broke loose, allowing seawater to enter the vessel's bunker tanks via broken air vents. The loss of power caused the crew to lose control of the ship during a storm.[2]


At 05.19 hrs on Tuesday 5 January 1993, Lerwick coastguard were advised that the tanker, Braer, en route from Bergen, Norway to Quebec, Canada, laden with 85,000 tonnes of Norwegian Gullfaks crude oil, had lost engine power but was in no immediate danger.[3] Her estimated position then was 10 nautical miles (19 km) south of Sumburgh Head, although the initial position given to the coastguards was off by 5 nautical miles (9 km), and she was drifting in predominantly southwesterly winds of 24 to 33 metre per second (Beaufort scale 10–11). The coastguard alerted rescue helicopters from Sumburgh and RAF Lossiemouth, and made enquiries about the availability of local tugs. At the Coast Guard's suggestion, the master agreed that non-essential personnel should be removed from the vessel—14 of the 34 crew were taken off by the coastguard helicopter from Sumburgh at 08:25.[4]

At 08:50 it was feared that the ship would run aground near Horse Island, and the experience of Aegean Sea which burst into flames shortly after grounding led the coastguard to persuade the Greek Captain Alexandros S. Gkelis to abandon ship. However, because of strong northwest local currents, Braer moved against the prevailing wind and missed Horse Island, drifting towards Quendale Bay.[4]

With the arrival on scene of the anchor handling vessel Star Sirius, it was decided to attempt to establish a tow. There was a breakdown in communication between the local police and the coastguards which caused a 90-minute delay at this point.[3] However the master and some personnel were then taken out by helicopter and were put back on board the vessel. Efforts to attach a heaving line were unsuccessful, and at 11:19 the vessel was confirmed as being grounded at Garths Ness, with oil being seen to flow out into the sea from the moment of impact. At this time, the would-be rescue team were rescued by the helicopter.[3]

Environmental consequences[edit]

The Gulfaks crude Braer was carrying was not a typical North Sea oil. Gulfaks crude is lighter, more easily dispersible[5] and more biodegradable than other North Sea crude oils, and this, in combination with some of the worst storms seen in Shetland (naturally dispersing the oil by wave action and evaporation), prevented the event from having greater impacts on the shore.[5] However, the higher percentage of volatile compounds may relate to the high rate of respiratory distress noted in seals in the area.[6] The following is a brief account of the spread and eventual dispersion of the oil.

MV Braer is located in Scotland
MV Braer
MV Braer
Location of the wreck off the Shetland Islands


Initially the local authorities informed the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency Marine Pollution Control Unit. the Director of Marine Emergencies Operation and various UK Ministries. In order to lead the response they set up a Joint Response Centre (made up of local councillors, managers, environmentalists and technicians). There were fears that the oil could set off an explosion and the area around Quendale beach was closed off. Evacuation of residents from housing in the area was considered if pollution levels became too high but not put into action. Aircraft were immediately ordered to monitor the spread of the oil and to spray chemical dispersants on the oil. Alternative methods of dispersing the oil were considered (mechanical methods or burning) but were rejected because they were thought to be ineffective in the bad weather or dangerous. Authorisation to use dispersant sprays were obtained from the Marine Emergencies Operation, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Office Agriculture and Fisheries Department. Spraying of dispersants on the oil started on day two. Solo, a Greenpeace ship also arrived in Shetland on day two with facilities to help mammals and birds affected by the oil spill.[5] 23,000 sheep were removed from the area.[7]

Fuelled by intense media coverage over the new year holiday when news is in short supply, initial response also focused on wildlife rescue. The various local organisations that are involved in the wildlife aspects of a large oil spill had for some time planned how to cope with such events. Immediately after Braer grounded, these organisations (under the umbrella of the WRCC), representing the SIC, Sullom Voe Terminal (SVT), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Shetland Oil Terminal Environmental Advisory Group (SOTEAG), Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA), and the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary, came together to initiate a response at the Boddam Scout hut (it having been identified as a suitable wildlife response "command centre").[citation needed] From there, they directed all activities relating to wildlife affected by the spill; which was channelled into three categories:

  1. Organise teams to walk beaches and collect oiled birds and other animals
  2. Deal with live oiled birds and mammals
  3. Record and store dead birds and mammals

The volunteer response from the people of Shetland to walk beaches was excellent, especially considering the appalling weather conditions during much of January. From outside Shetland came several "walk-in" helpers, a team of five from the Scottish Wildlife Trust and two from British Gas, while some staff members from organisations such as the RSPB came north and helped out both on beaches and in key duties at the WRC. Volunteers were organised into teams of at least two and collected all dead and any live birds and animals from accessible beaches. Where possible, beaches were checked at least twice per day.[citation needed]

During the first few days of the spill, efforts were concentrated in the south-west Mainland, from Sandwick round to Maywick; but the northward spread of the oil up the west side meant that, by 12 January, surveys had been extended to cover the longer stretches of accessible coastline in the Burra, Scalloway, Whiteness and Weisdale areas, and westwards as far as Culswick. In total, all the accessible beaches from Leebitten (east Mainland) round Sumburgh to the Dale of Walls (west Mainland) were checked during the course of the spill, which prompted the setting up of a forward "command post" at Holmsgarth, Lerwick from where surveys of the "northern" coasts were co-ordinated.[citation needed]

By 26 January focus had shifted from wildlife rescue to human health, economic and ecological issues, and the Secretary of State for Scotland announced the establishment of an Ecological Steering Group to co-ordinate the environmental assessment. This was chaired by Professor William Ritchie of Aberdeen University, and its membership included Dr John Davies of the Marine Laboratory, Aberdeen; Martin Hall the Director of Environmental Services of Shetland Islands Council; Dr Paul Kingston of Heriot-Watt University; Dr Patricia Monaghan, a zoologist from Glasgow University; Professor Michael Usher, the Chief Scientific Adviser to Scottish Natural Heritage; Dr John Miles, the Ecological Adviser to the Scottish Office; and Bobby Tulloch MBE, a Shetland naturalist and author.[8]

The total number of dead birds recovered from beaches during January was 1538. Of these, 805 (52%) were found between Sumburgh Head and Garths Ness. Only 60 corpses (3.8%) were collected from beaches along the east coast, with the remainder scattered fairly evenly along the west coast between Spiggie and Sandsound, with smaller numbers further north and west to Dale. During the first week of the spill (6–12 January), very few dead birds were found away from the area between Scatness and St. Ollie's Isle, and even in this area the majority were collected from the West Voe of Sumburgh, Scatness and Quendale. In the second week (13–19 January), fewer corpses were collected close to Braer, and there was a corresponding increase in the number collected from further north on the west coast. This trend continued into the third week (20–26 January), but, by the fourth week (27–31 January), very few birds were found anywhere and there was no obvious tendency for more to be found in one area than another.[citation needed]

In any oil spill, it is difficult to estimate the proportion of the actual mortality found on beach surveys, and several factors made that even harder in the case of Braer. The almost constant storms made it difficult to search shorelines as thoroughly as could have been done in calmer weather, and also made it much more difficult to catch live birds, some of which were driven inland by the wind. The weather also prevented systematic searches of the islands in Quendale Bay and further north, where birds were likely to have come ashore and died, while the exceptionally high tides at the time also compounded the problem, especially if they occurred in the middle of the day. For several days, beaches were completely under water for the 6–7 hours of daylight available for surveys, with unreachable corpses moving back and forth in the surf. When tides did drop, many beaches had been completely rearranged, or buried in tonnes of kelp by the heavy seas.[citation needed]

At Scatness, dead shags had been driven deep into cracks and crevices in the rocks or buried beneath the kelp, and sometimes just parts of a bird were found. In addition, the many small boulder beaches along the south-west coast were too inaccessible to be checked at all, several corpses were likely to have been scavenged by the larger gulls, and an unknown but almost certainly significant proportion will have been swept out to sea.[citation needed]

The Steering Group published an interim report in May 1993 and a final report in 1994, which contains details of the monitoring strategy and methods. It found that:

  1. by the end of July 1993 farmed salmon showed no taint and there was no sign of resuspension of sediment that might contaminate fish in cages,
  2. for all species of wild fish contamination fell rapidly, and in April 1993 the ban on fishing had been correctly lifted,
  3. in May 1994 there had still been evidence of low levels of contamination in some shellfish and the prohibition on fishing at that time had remained correct,
  4. residual oil then lodged in the sea bed west and south-east of Shetland showed no evidence of any effects on whitefish or shellfish,
  5. there was no change in the distribution or population of sandeels, an important indicator species and food chain component,
  6. there were disturbances to populations of benthic communities in areas of fine sediment affected by oil, but not such as significantly to disrupt community structures, and insignificant effects on communities in the coastal macrobenthos,
  7. there was little evidence of hydrocarbon contamination in near-shore and intertidal coastal areas,
  8. any impact on rocky shores was small and limited to coastlines near the wreck,
  9. Up to 25% of the local grey seal population may have been impacted, with hundreds of animals showing signs of respiratory distress,[6]
  10. Over 200 oiled birds were brought in for rehabilitation,[9] with possibly thousands impacted.[10][11][12]
  11. effects on land were very constrained (e.g. effects on bryophytes were confined to a 10 metre band between Garths Wick and Garths Ness), and any effects on grazing land, soils, livestock or plants were very slight and short-lived.

The Steering Group concluded that although there were local and limited adverse effects the overall impact of the spill had been minimal.[8]

Designation under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973[edit]

Bow of the Braer visible in June 1993

A designation under section 2 of the Protection of Wrecks Act was made on 8 February 1993.[13] This part of the act is used to designate wrecks categorised as dangerous. It was only the second time that Part 2 of the Act was used to designate a wreck site, and the designation was imposed because of the presence of the oil. The designation was revoked on 7 October 1994[14] following dispersal of the oil.

The wreck of the Braer remained in an exposed position and finally broke apart and sank on January 11. The upturned bow remained visible for seven years before sinking. The site of the Braer is on the west coast of Garths Ness, an area with shallow water and very exposed to prevailing winds so the wreckage is smashed flat in less than 10 metres of water with little recognisable remaining.[1]


In 1995, British folk-rock band Fairport Convention released the album Jewel in the Crown, including "The Islands" by Ralph McTell and Maartin Allcock. The song commemorates the wreck of Braer, personifying the sea as the protector of the Shetland Islands.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Braer". 20 December 2018.
  2. ^ Report of the Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents (9 Dec 1993)
  3. ^ a b c Wills, Jonathan (4 January 2013). "What REALLY happened on the Braer?". Shetland News. Retrieved 11 October 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. ^ a b "Braer". Scottish Shipwrecks. 20 December 2018. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  5. ^ a b c Gervais, Marie-Claude (September 1997). "Social Representations of Nature: The Case of the Braer Oil Spill in Shetland (Doctor of Philosophy thesis)" (PDF). Department of Social Psychology, London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London. pp. 104–105.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. ^ a b Hall, Ailsa J.; Watkins, John; Hiby, Lex (1996). "The impact of the 1993 Braer oil spill on grey seals in Shetland". Science of the Total Environment. 186 (1–2): 119–25. Bibcode:1996ScTEn.186..119H. doi:10.1016/0048-9697(96)05090-5. PMID 8685704.
  7. ^ "MT Braer". Shipwreck Log. 14 September 2014. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  8. ^ a b Ritchie W & O'Sullivan M, The Environmental Impact of the Wreck of the Braer, Scottish Office, Edinburgh, 1994, pp. xiii, 1 and 166
  9. ^[full citation needed]
  10. ^ "Estimating Spill Related Bird Mortality".
  11. ^ Ford, R. G. (2006). "Using beached bird monitoring data for seabird damage assessment: the importance of search interval". Marine Ornithology. 34: 91–8.
  12. ^ Ford, R. Glenn; Page, Gary W.; Carter, Harry R. (1987). "Estimating Mortality of Seabirds from Oil Spills". International Oil Spill Conference Proceedings. 1987: 547–551. doi:10.7901/2169-3358-1987-1-547.
  13. ^ "Statutory Instrument 1993 No. 199". Office of Public Sector Information. Retrieved 29 October 2006.
  14. ^ "Statutory Instrument 1997 No. 1976". Office of Public Sector Information. Retrieved 29 October 2006.
  15. ^ McTell, Ralph; Fairport Convention (1995). Jewel in the Crown (Liner notes). Danbury, CT: Green Linnet Records. p. 7.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

59°53′00″N 1°21′00″W / 59.88333°N 1.35000°W / 59.88333; -1.35000