Hopton beach oil could be from historic tanker Eleni V - sunk in 1978

The Eleni V tanker disaster, which hit the headlines in May 1978. With HMS Plymouth close by, the s

The Eleni V tanker disaster, which hit the headlines in May 1978. With HMS Plymouth close by, the ship's helicopter ferries explosives across to the tankers hulk (31/05/1978). Source: Library.

The sands of time have shifted at Hopton beach.

For campaigners believe the recent discovery of oil has exposed the aftermath of an historic shipping disaster.

The giant oil tanker Eleni V was sailing in thick fog when she was struck by the French bulk carrier Roseline on May 6, 1978.

More than 5,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil was spilt - polluting some 20 miles of the Norfolk coast - after the collision six miles off Happisburgh.

As part of the £2m clear-up operation, bore holes were drilled to sink oil well below popular tourist beaches.

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But last Friday 'thick tar like oil deposits' appeared on Hopton beach at low tide.

And Brian Hardisty, chairman of Hopton Coastal Action Group, believes severe coastal erosion has exposed the oil from more than three decades ago.

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'We could see the oil slick and I can smell it,' said Mr Hardisty. 'I think it's going to be Eleni V oil and this has occurred because of the lowering of the beach level.

'This is just another symptom of this erosion caused by the outer harbour.

'I'm afraid all the chickens are coming home to roost.'

Outer harbour bosses strongly deny that the erosion is caused by the development, and investigations are still ongoing to confirm where the oil has come from.

Kate Watts, the council's environmental services manager, said: 'There's a possibility it's got something to do with the vessel.

'We believe records show oil was disposed of in that area - it's not that anything was done that shouldn't have been.

'I wouldn't want to conclude that it's the cause without any evidence.'

She added there have been 'strange tides' recently which may have exposed the oil, but it posed no health and safety risk and has disappeared of its own accord.

But the council and Environment Agency are pressing ahead with investigations, fearing the oil could surface again.

'We wouldn't want it to happen in the peak of our seasonal period,' said Ms Watts.

A council spokesman said signs have been erected in the area to give information to the public.

Initial investigations by Great Yarmouth Borough Council show a low risk to health and the environment, but as a precaution officers are asking that people and their animals avoid using the section of beach which is affected.

The Environment Agency has been notified along with other partner organisations and the council is continuing to investigate and monitor the situation.

For further information call environmental health on 01493 846478

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