On Saturday 6th May 1978 the super tanker Eleni V was in collision with the bulk ore carrier Roseline some four miles off Lowestoft. The Roseline was not seriously damaged but the Eleni V was split in two. There were no losses as the crew of the Eleni V successfully abandoned ship. The aft section drifted onto a sandbank three miles off Corton whilst the bow section, which contained 3,000 tons of oil stayed afloat and was leaking oil. The bow section was being buffetted by huge waves and was in the main shipping lanes so was a danger to other shipping in the area. By the second day the oil slick was covering an area of approximately six square miles.
This incident was being controlled by the Coastguards at Gorleston who were quick to spray the oil slick with detergent in order to break it into more manageable slicks. They also had divers on the wreck who were welding a second anchor point to the bow section so it could be towed to a safer location for disposal. This was a hazardous operation owing to the nature of the cargo and the heavy seas. By May 10th there were over 20 ships spraying the slicks but oil still came ashore from Great Yarmouth to Aldeburgh. The Anglian Water Authority placed a boom across the entrance to Great Yarmouth harbour but this broke under the strain and some oil managed to get into Breydon Water. Many sea birds were coming ashore caked in oil and had to be humanely destroyed.
Finally, after twenty four days a second tow line was attached to what was left of the Eleni V. This second line was essential as the strain on one line might be such that the plate to which it was attached might give way and release even more oil. The Eleni V was towed to a point twenty six miles off Lowestoft where it met a dramatic end. The Royal Navy blew it up. The 1,100 tons of oil remaining was vapourised in an explosion that saw orange flames and black smoke rising to a height of 2,000 feet. The resulting explosion was heard 40 miles away.
That was the end of the Eleni V but not the end of the story. Great Yarmouth Borough Council spent the next seven years trying to re-coup the £300,000 it cost to clear the oil from the beaches. The Labour Government of the time reneged on promises it made that GYBC would not have to meet the cost of the clear up. Eventually the Council had to accept little over half what it cost for the clear up provided they made no further claims against the Insurers of the two ships involved.