Engineers from Shell were still working yesterday to halt the biggest oil leak in the North Sea for more than a decade, as conservationists expressed fears for the safety of young seabirds.

The leak, which began on Thursday at the Gannet Alpha production platform 160km off Aberdeen, was "under control", a Shell UK spokesman said yesterday, but had not been completely halted.

Shell estimates 216 tonnes of oil (more than 1300 barrels) had escaped so far, making the spill the most serious in the North Sea since 2000, when about 350 tonnes were released in the Hutton field.

The Gannet Alpha leak is in a pipeline on the seabed, 100m down, which makes repair work extremely difficult. Shell has sent down a remotely operated vehicle and divers. By yesterday the rate was down to about seven barrels a day.

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- Independent