This page provides an over-view of the Government's response to the MS Oliva disaster and its aftermath.

Government Response

Start from the beginning or go straight to the Latest News Bulletin

Friday 18th March Statement from the Governor's Office on St Helena 15.35 on
The wreck of the MS Oliva
Since this incident occurred, the authorities in Tristan have been working round the clock, first to co-ordinate the rescue of the sailors on board the stricken vessel, and now to assess the implications for the environment and wildlife. A salvage vessel is already on its way.
Sean Burns, the Island Administrator, is currently at the wreck site to assess the state of the vessel and the risks it poses. He is being supported by a team of specialists in the UK from across the British government and agencies, including the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Marine Management Organisation, and others.
It is too early to be certain about either the causes of this accident or the consequences for the local environment. But the Tristan
Government is committed to ensuring that the ship’s owners will meet the full cost of any clean-up, damage or subsequent losses arising from the situation.

Andrew Gurr

Governor Andrew Gurr visited Tristan da Cunha aboard the RMS St Helena earlier this year.

Monday 21st March Public Notice issued by Tristan Administrator Sean Burns

Sean Burns issued a Public Notice which was posted in the Tristan da Cunha Settlement in traditional fashion this morning and by email to those with internet.
Sean briefed Islanders on the events described above and also included the following updates:

A salvage tug is due here this afternoon. On board will be a team of divers who will assess the damage and potential oil leaks in the future. They will also be looking to tow away the main section of the ship, which remains intact. There is also an environmentalist on board. A team of 9 islanders are over on Nightingale and under the direction of Trevor and his team they are doing all they can for the penguins and birds affected. They are also getting valuable advice from experts around the world.

A team in Cape Town, London and elsewhere are looking to charter another vessel to come to Tristan to remove the oil and rescue the birds. We will also be assessing the impact on the marine environment and in particular the fishery, which is of course so important to our economy.

There will be lots for us all to do in the coming weeks. We are dependent on the advice and help of experts and I am pleased to say that this has been forthcoming. The reaction of the ship’s owners and insurers has been swift. In the meantime I want to reassure you that we are doing all we can to help resolve this awful situation.

Tuesday 29th March
Summary Report from Tristan da Cunha Administrator Sean Burns

MV Edinburgh likely to remain on duty

The Tristan Government have asked MV Edinburgh to stay on at least until the tug Singapore arrives later in the week. The ship’s crew led by Captain Clarence know the waters and have been doing a great job working with the island to move penguins, people and equipment around, so deserve great thanks.

Tug Smit Amandla to depart for Cape Town

When the Edinburgh’s continued presence is confirmed the tug Smit Amandla will depart as the vessel has done all she can. The Government are grateful she was mobilised and arrived so quickly. Sean extends thanks to her Master, the salvage team and the crew for coming here so soon, on behalf of the community.  Six divers who came on the Smit Amandla are staying behind on the islands to help with the collection of birds and to clean up the oil.

Tug Singapore's short visit plans

The tug Singapore will arrive later in the week and on board will be Dr Mark Whittington from ITOPF (The International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation). Sean looks forward to his arrival and his assessment on how to go forward with the clear up. It appears that the Singapore will then return to Cape Town, subject of course to the Edinburgh remaining as there must be a vessel on duty throughout this operation. It is understood that a priority for the Singapore will be the transport of equipment and supplies to clean penguins and other seabirds. Materials for the clean-up of the foreshore will come on a third vessel yet to be confirmed. Sean adds that there is little point in that vessel sailing until Mark Whittington has arrived here and evaluated what is needed.

Insurance Matters

A representative from the insurers (Captain Nick Sloane) will be coming ashore today and will be working with the authorities over many aspects of the operation. He will be here for the duration of the emergency and the community looks forward to working with him over what are complex issues. Sean adds that many of the insurance matters are sensitive and an update will follow in due course.

Excellent teamwork in difficult circumstances

Sean praises the team who are doing a fantastic job in very difficult circumstances. Those who know Tristan will appreciate the challenges the community faces. The Government is working with all stake holders to try and sort this situation out but it is not an easy business chartering vessels, getting expertise and procuring the right equipment at short notice. It is complicated. The next challenge will be to get around the isolated areas of the islands to assess the damage there and to work out how to clean up, especially as the weather deteriorates.  To help with that job a helicopter has been requested.

Concern for impact on lobster fishery

The focus so far has quite rightly been on the immediate need to save the penguins, but Sean reminds the outside world of the immense importance of the lobster fishery. It is what sustains the island's economy so any long term closure could be extremely serious for the island. Both Nightingale and Inaccessible fishing grounds remain closed pending advice and a sampling programme is underway. The fishing grounds will not be able to reopen until the Government is satisfied that it is safe to do so.  Director of Fisheries James Glass is currently preparing a more detailed report on the fishery which will be available soon.

Wednesday 30th March Report from Tristan da Cunha Administrator Sean Burns
Oliva Crew departure imminent
The 22 crew of MS Oliva are due to be picked up and transported off Tristan da Cunha by a sister ship in the next few days. A full and appropriate enquiry into why the modern and well-equipped ship ran aground and was subsequently wrecked on the well-charted Nightingale Island in good weather on a routine voyage will be held in due course. Friends of the Tristan da Cunha community who want details of any insurance claims and any legal action will have to wait as the Government takes advice to protect the Tristan da Cunha Islands, their unique environment and the way of life of its people. The immediate attention is on the clean-up and protection of wildlife catalogued on our other Oliva Disaster related pages but we cannot forget the impact this is having on the island's economy as the fishery remains closed pending analysis of the lobster. The Government is very grateful for many messages and offers of support during this emergency.

Thursday 31st March Announcement from Tristan da Cunha Administrator Sean Burns
Crucial ship with helicopter secured to boost Oliva clean-up operation
Sean is pleased to report that following discussions between the Tristan da Cunha Government and the owners/ insurers it has been confirmed that a helicopter will be coming to Tristan aboard the ship MS Ivan Papanin. The ship is due to leave Cape Town on Tuesday 5th or Wednesday 6th April. The Tristan Government is very pleased that the use of a helicopter has been secured as it will facilitate access to remote penguin rookeries and provide essential transport for penguins, people and equipment around the islands. For example it will be available in case there are is a need to evacuate anyone working on the islands back to Tristan in a hurry. 

Saturday 2nd April

MS Oliva crew departs

The 24 crew of MS Oliva
departed Tristan da Cunha today
aboard MS
Samaton en route
to Santos, Brazil


Tina Glass' photograph shows the 22 crew of MS Oliva gathered in the Settlement.
They enjoyed traditional
Tristan da Cunha hospitality, are all well
and on 23rd March were helping
to tend the Islanders Potato Patches.
Much of their clothing has been donated to them by Tristan Islanders.

Tina Glass' photos show
the Oliva crew
Left: assembled on the harbourside
Right: In a barge setting off to the waiting sister ship
MS Samaton

Sunday 3rd April Report from Tristan Administrator Sean Burns
Pollution Assessment
Sean was able to travel over to the outer islands on Saturday 2nd April. He reports that Alex or Middle Island is by far the worst polluted area seen, but vast areas of the islands have not yet been visited. With the way the wreck is lying and taking into account the way the wind has been moving since the ship ran aground, it is not surprising that this area is badly hit. The ‘landing’, situated opposite the Western Landing on Nightingale is coated in thick oil. Sean saw oil in the sea around the islands with the heaviest concentration on Nightingale around Petrel Bay. Blenden Hall on Inaccessible still has a slick of diesel and heavy fuel oil, and some heavy oil in the kelp around Nightingale and Inaccessible islands.
Rookeries almost empty as moulting season finishes
Simon and the team removed the last of the birds and apart from a few stragglers the rookery above this area is now more or less empty. The other rookeries on Nightingale are clean and most of the birds have now left. Whether or not they survived we do not know. An assessment of how many birds have survived cannot be made until the penguins return to begin breeding in August. Switch to cleaning as tug Singapore arrives
With the birds leaving the islands there is no longer a need to have large teams collecting and holding the birds before transportation to Tristan. During the week there will be a scaling down of operations and concentration on cleaning those birds in rehabilitation on Tristan. The Singapore arrives on Monday 4 th April and because the weather is likely to prevent her off loading, she will make a quick assessment of Nightingale before coming to Tristan to begin off loading the drugs and cleaning equipment the rehabilitation team so desperately need. The conservation team now have 50/60 people helping out with the operation and a shift system has been put in place for when the cleaning starts.
Ivan Papanin being prepared to depart
The Ivan Papanin, equipped with materials to clean up the oil, will be leaving Cape Town on Tuesday or Wednesday. They do not wish to sail before the ITOPF team (headed up by Dr Mark Whittington) who arrive on 4 th April get a chance to assess the situation for themselves. The IP will have a helicopter on board to help move people and equipment around to assist with the cleanup operation.
Fishery Assessment
The all important fishery remains closed. The Edinburgh is currently taking samples, which will need testing in either Cape Town or the UK. There is little possibility that the results will be known before the end of the season (end April) so it is likely both islands will remain closed until next season. A decision on re-opening the fishery cannot be taken until a rigorous programme of sampling and testing has taken place.

So the forthcoming week will be another busy one for all but the situation is changing as the focus moves from a rescue/collection situation to a cleaning operation.

A selection of images taken by Sean Burns on 2nd April - see the full set on Oliva Phase II News

Monday 4th April: House of Commons Answer Published on MS Oliva Disaster

In response to a question from MP Andrew Rosindell to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs an answer on behalf of the Secretary of State from Mr Bellingham was published on 4th April.

The question asked ‘what reports he has received on the effects of the oil slick at Petrel Bay, Nightingale Island; and what assistance his Department is giving to mitigate the effects of the slick.'

The reply: The Government are extremely concerned by the situation in Tristan da Cunha, part of the British Overseas Territory of St. Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, arising from the wreck on Nightingale Island of the motor vessel Oliva. We have been in close touch with the Tristan da Cunha authorities throughout and are ensuring that they have the advice and support they need from across Government and elsewhere.

We are receiving regular reports on the situation at Nightingale Island from the Tristan da Cunha authorities. Leaked fuel oil from the wreck of the Oliva has washed ashore. It has impacted on both protected wildlife and the fisheries on which the islands' economy relies. The Tristan authorities and community are working hard to help the wildlife affected by the oil. The fisheries at Nightingale and Inaccessible Islands will remain closed until testing has shown the catch to be free of any harmful effects of pollution. The longer term impacts on the wildlife and fisheries will take time to assess.

The responsibility to clean up the damage caused to this precious environment and to compensate the Tristan community for any losses they may suffer lies with the ship's owners and insurers. We are ensuring that they continue to meet this responsibility in full.

The remoteness of the site and the demanding conditions mean that this is a very difficult operation. Following the initial salvage efforts further equipment and expert personnel are now en route to the islands.

See Also our separate Tristan in Parliament Page where we always publish any Tristan business with links to Hansard.

Monday 11th April Report from RSPB Project Officer Katrine Herian
Arrival of Ivan Papanin Imminent
Tristan awaits the arrival of the Ivan Papanin on Tuesday 12 th April with clean-up materials, equipment and further personnel. Mark Whittington of ITOPF has produced a clean-up plan and the helicopter being brought by the ship will be crucial in accessing sections of coastline on Inaccessible, Nightingale, Middle and Stoltenhoff Islands not yet properly accessed for pollution.

Public Notice Issued by Administrator Sean Burns on 14 th April 2011


You will have seen the unique sight of five vessels anchored off Tristan earlier this week. We had the Edinburgh, the Baltic Trader, the Ivan Papanin, the Plancius and the Singapore. Some people think this is a record? If anyone can remember differently, please let us know. Calshot harbour looked like a commercial port. All we need now is a commercial harbour!

Islanders have continued to come forward to help with the penguins. This is critical if we are to get the birds cleaned, washed and stabilized before release. Now that the island’s stores have been off loaded from the Baltic Trader, I hope that the numbers of volunteers can once again increase. SANCCOB and the rest of the off island team are due to leave on 22 or 23 April. On current forecasts this means we will be left with a number of birds to wash long after they have gone. We have expressed our concerns about this and are busy putting in place a structure to manage this. We will also ensure that we are left with enough equipment and supplies and the financial resources to see the job through. Discussions are continuing about the possibility of the SANCCOB team extending their stay.

Oil Clean up

A team flew over Inaccessible and Nightingale on Tuesday. We were able to collect Danny and Nigel from Inaccessible but unfortunately we were unable to get on to the shoreline to survey the pollution. On a positive note, there was little evidence of oil in the sea around Inaccessible. Unfortunately the same could not be said about Nightingale. Although the wreck has now disappeared completely, there is still a considerable amount of oil around Middle Island, Petrel Bay and beyond. We are told that as the wreck breaks up pockets of oil will be released. We look forward to a few good Tristan storms to finally break everything up and clean all of the oil and Soya out so we know what we are dealing with. We have also asked for the wreck and surrounding area to be surveyed by the diving team and we look forward to receiving their reports.

The Ivan Papanin brought with her the equipment to clean up the oil. There is a helicopter on board to assist moving the equipment and teams to and from Middle Island. The team (including Trevor and other islanders) are busy setting up their equipment and work will hopefully begin this afternoon. They will be using high-pressure hoses with warm seawater. They do not intend to use any dispersants or chemicals and any oil that is removed from the rocks and the pools will be collected, bagged and taken to Cape Town. They are taking great care not to let the oil return to the water.

The Fishery

The fishery on both islands remains closed. We are in the process of collecting samples and these will return to Cape Town on the Edinburgh with James Glass where they will be tested. We look forward to receiving the test results when we will decide what further action we need to take. We are working closely with the insurers, Ovenstone and various experts on this important aspect of the crisis.


Many of you have asked about what we are doing in terms of compensation. First of all we were assured early on that anyone involved with the project will be paid and as you know comprehensive records are being kept. This is important if we are to pay people correctly. We will also be reimbursed for other island resources that have been directed at this operation (e.g. PWD stores, boat trips, electricity consumption, accommodation costs etc). We will also be seeking compensation for the closure of the fishery for this year, funds to conduct a comprehensive project to study the impact the spill might have had on this precious and vital resource and compensation for any decline in the fishery stocks that might result from the spill. Until this disaster occurred, we had a valuable and top class resource in pristine waters. The community and Island’s economy is dependent on the fishery and we will be doing all we can to ensure that we are fully compensated for any losses that have occurred or might occur in the future. As you will appreciate, this is a complex area and again, we are working hard with experts to ensure we do this properly.

Many thanks to all of you for pulling together during this crisis. The response from the community has been fantastic. I hope that in a few weeks time we can put all of this behind us and that the Island quickly returns to normal. As always, if anyone has any concerns or questions, please do not hesitate to come and see me or express them through your councillors.

Sean Burns 14th April 2011

 Go to: MS Oliva Impact Page
which is a further page showing the impact of MS Oliva and it's effect of the Tristan economy and environment from September 2011
See also:
A diary of the first phase of the disaster up to Monday 21st March : Oliva Wreck 1
A catalogue of the clean-up operation on Nightingale and Inaccessible after 21st March: Oliva Phase II News
A page providing news and pictures of the back-up operation on the main Tristan da Cunha Island : Oliva Tristan Diary
Impact of MS Oliva Disaster on Tristan's Fishing Industry: Oliva Fishing News
Want to help? - Link to our How to Help Page
Report explaining the cause of the grounding and safety lessons learned: MS Oliva Safety Report
MS Oliva Disaster Home Page and Links