Ex-ships pilots warn on plans for port.
Eight retired ships' pilots have expressed serious safety concerns about plans to turn Milford Haven into the world's biggest importer of liquefied natural gas.
Yesterday the pilots released a statement they have made for use by campaigners, whose application for a judicial review of the decision to approve the pounds 600m scheme will be considered by the High Court later this month.
The pilots' statement has been claimed as a major boost by campaign group Safe Haven, whose battle against the plans forms the subject of a Wales This Week programme on ITV Wales tonight.
The terminal jetty - built in 1959 and being refurbished for liquefied natural gas (LNG) - reaches far into the waterway, sitting right on the edge of the deep-water channel used by passing vessels.
The pilots say there is a risk of a collision - with a possibly catastrophic release of liquefied gas - or that the wave effects from passing vessels could disrupt the links to the terminal.
In their statement, the pilots say, 'We are not qualified to comment on whether a gas escape from a moored LNG Carrier (LNGC) would pose a risk to local populations but we are well qualified to state that risk of collision particularly to an LNGC moored at no. 2 berth of the Herbrandston terminal will exist and we believe that transiting Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) and LNGCs will have an inherent capability of penetrating the hull of a moored LNGC.'
The pilots assert that for safety reasons the jetty head should be relocated about 750 feet to the north of its present location.
They conclude their statement by saying, 'Not to do so is to ignore past experience and all industry and independent recommendations and will make the risk of collision with consequential release of gas - or release of gas through surging of the moored LNGC caused by transiting traffic - a real every day possibility.'
Safe Haven spokesman Gordon Main said, 'I think we have now reached a situation where everybody who supports the Milford Haven LNG project in its current form finds themselves arguing against both industry best practice on general safety as outlined in a review of best practice by the Society for International Gas Tanker and Terminal Operators (SIGTTO) and the experience of pilots locally as outlined in this powerful statement.
'It is now time for responsible politicians and civil servants, both locally and nationally, to stop looking the other way. In my view, the proposed Exxon Mobil LNG terminal at Milford Haven must either provide good argument why it should proceed in the light of best practice and ignoring collective local expertise, or the development must be stopped while the relevant safety audits are done.
'For too long now, reasonable calls for safety to be looked at properly have been branded as scaremongering. SIGTTO are not scaremongers.
'Retired pilots are not scaremongers.
'This is a serious matter and merits the serious attention of all those responsible for public safety and industry best practice.'
A spokesman for Milford Haven Port Authority said, 'We have undertaken a number of risk assessments as part of the process of determining the way in which we will regulate and manage LNG ships when they start to use our port from the end of 2007.
'This work has involved our own staff including marine managers and pilots, the use of simulators at the Marine Institute in Holland and in the marine college in Fleetwood, the commissioning of studies and reports from experts and consultants, and working closely with the marine technical teams of both projects.
'The SIGTTO review of best practice guidance refers to the benefits of siting terminals away from developed areas.
' The Authority believes that both the selected sites meet this criterion.'
It is understood that counsel acting for the port authority will respond to specific points made by the retired pilots during the court hearing.
Wales This Week goes out at 7.30pm tonight on ITV1 Wales. Bringing in the gas: As supplies of North Sea gas decline, Britain will become increasingly dependent on gas from the Middle and Far East. From the end of this decade a quarter of the UK's gas will be shipped into Milford Haven on large tankers - from gas fields in Qatar and Malaysia.
At a cost of pounds 600m, two terminals are being built on the site of old oil refineries. The liquefied gas (chilled to minus 160C to reduce its volume to 1/600th of its gaseous form) will be piped ashore and stored in huge tanks, each costing around pounds 1m, before being warmed up and regasified.
A huge new pipeline will be constructed by Transco to take the gas to Aberdulais near Neath to join the National Grid. There are plans for two large gas-fired power stations which will further increase Pembrokeshire's total contribution to Britain's energy demand.