The Sea Empress ran aground ay the entrance to Milford Haven, South West Wales. Although the tanker was refloated within a couple of hours, it sustained serious damage to its starboard and centre tanks, resulting in a massive release of oil.
Milford Haven lies within the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, and the main spill area affected 35 sites of special scientific interest, two national nature reserves (at Stackpole and Skomer), and one of the UK's three marine nature reserves (Skomer). South-west Wales supports about half a million breeding seabirds, including internationally- important populations of gannets, manx shearwaters, razorbills, storm petrels and puffins. Fortunately, the impact of the spill was much less than would have been expected from the quantity of oil spilled.
The RSPCA co-ordinated the bird rehabilitation response, which involved many other animal welfare organisations. An emergency centre was set up near Milford Haven where 3,100 oiled birds of 20 different species were received, most of them between 24 February and 2 March. When fit to travel, birds were taken to local and national cleaning facilities, including the RSPCA wildlife hospital at West Hatch, Somerset where 2,300 birds were treated.
A bird washing machine was also brought to the response by Total, used by French and Dutch responders. these activities were supervised by the RSPCA but separate from other rehabilitation activities.