MV Braer, at 30 years.

Thirty years ago this week I was packing my bags, heading north to Shetland Isles to photograph the environmental disaster that nearly was the MV Braer

On 5th January the MV Braer, an oil tanker heading from Norway to Canada, carrying 85,000 tonnes of crude oil, lost engine power and after failed rescue attempts it ran aground at Garths Ness, on Sumburgh head in the Shetland. And immediately started losing its cargo of oil to the sea.

The time of the Braer oil disaster, in Shetland, Scotland, January 1993.

Only the fact that the prevailing storm was so severe, and the oil was of a lighter type of crude and thus easily broken up by the storm and waves, was a truly horrendous environmental disaster averted. 

Ian Lang MP, Secretary of State for Scotland (centre) – The time of the Braer oil disaster, in Shetland, Scotland, January 1993.

I was sent north in a smallish plane, with the then Secretary of State for Scotland Ian Lang MP (above, centre). Many international press descended onto the island to cover the aftermath of the Braer’s grounding.

There were more journalists and tv crews than hotel rooms, and as such the team I was part of, a four man team for the Scotland on Sunday newspaper all shared one room in the local hotel. For two weeks almost myself and fellow photographer Adam Elder (below, left), with journalists  Euan Ferguson (who sadly died in 2022, pictured below, right) and Willie Paul, all shared a room. 

Scotland On Sunday journalist, Euan Ferguson (right) and photographer Adam Elder (left) – The time of the Braer oil disaster, in Shetland, Scotland, January 1993.

The images presented here come from that two week stay, showing islanders cleaning the oil from their property, an autopsy of a seal, clean up crews and journalist at work and more. 

Police stood guard on the cliff top overlooking the Braer’s wreck, and I remember the wind was so strong one could hardly stand. Shoot a frame or two, then cower down to wipe the oily spray off the front of your lens, then stand, take a picture, repeat…

Photographers looked for dead animals, dead seabirds, to photograph and illustrate the disaster (1,538 birds were found dead that January). Rumours to this day had it that one photographer, who shall remain nameless, had a dead seabird which he kept in the boot of his car and shared around, but if it is true I never saw it!

These pictures were only recently scanned up as part of the organising of my archive. Stupidly they hadn’t been scanned up before last year, and probably I’ve lost sales of them over the years. But hey ho, I was too busy living a life and photographing more events, making more images and memories. Such is life, can’t do everything. At least they’ve been done to share with you all in this week of the 30th anniversary of the Braer.

As always, all images featured here are available to buy as archival prints, on Hahnemuhle paper. All prints come signed and captioned. Sizes and prices can be discussed, just drop me a note.

Thanks for reading,

and all the best for 2023!

Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *