Oil From Sunken Cargo Ship Menaces French Coast

Fire broke out aboard the Grande America on March 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Nationale)


BREST, France, March 20, 2019 (ENS) – Oil leaking from an Italian container ship that sank in the Bay of Biscay March 12 is likely to reach French shores sometime this week, French maritime authorities warn.

Grande America was a roll-on/roll-off cargo ship built by Fincantieri in 1997, owned and operated by Grimaldi Lines, a subsidiary of Grimaldi Group.

Fire broke out aboard the Grande America on March 10, 2019. (Photo courtesy Marine Nationale)

On March 10,  Grande America caught fire in the Atlantic Ocean between France and Spain on its route from Hamburg, Germany to Casablanca, Morocco, and two days later sank in the Bay of Biscay about 300 km off the French coast.

The Grimaldi Group said in a statement, “The fire was caused by some cargo loaded on board the vessel and the firefighting operation by the crew had to be discontinued when the ship had to be abandoned in order to avoid any risk for the crew’s safety.”

The 27 people on board were rescued by the British frigate HMS Argyll after they abandoned the ship and took to a lifeboat on March 11. All safe and sound, they were taken to Brest.

Now, an oil spill about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) long and one km (0.62 mi) wide is moving towards the French coastline, threatening the areas around La Rochelle, Biarritz, and Vendée.

The ship was carrying 2,200 tonnes of heavy fuel as well as 365 containers of which 45 contained material deemed to be hazardous by the International Maritime Organization, including 10 tonnes of hydrochloric acid and 70 tonnes of sulfuric acid.

The ship held 2,210 vehicles, including 37 Porsches headed for Brazilian importers. Four of these were Porsche’s last units of the 911 GT2 RS, which was discontinued in February. Porsche says it will reactivate the production line for this model so that the four cars can be delivered to their owners in Brazil.

oil slick
The European Space Agency’s Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite imaged the oil spill from the Grande America which sank March 12 in the Atlantic, 300 km off the coast of France, Image taken March 19, 2019 (Image courtesy ESA)

Oil is still emerging from the ship now lying at a depth of around 4,600 meters. French authorities are on the alert to reduce the impact of oil and hazardous materials pollution along the coast.

The Grimaldi Group said it immediately dispatched the Anchor Handling Supply vessel Union Lynx which is monitoring fuel spills from the sunken ship and organizing the recovery of any floating containers.

A Grimaldi-appointed team of experts in marine casualties and pollution prevention is in Brest “to monitor the environmental situation and advise any further measures, in coordination with the French Authorities,” the Grimaldi statement said.

Near the site of the sinking, specialized anti-pollution ships chartered by the French Navy and the European Maritime Safety Agency, supported by daily surveillance flights, are working to contain the oil spilling from the ship, joined by units from Spain, under the framework of the “BISCAYE Plan,” a cooperation agreement between the two countries. The ships present at the sinking site can implement floating dams, intended to contain the pollutants in order to then be able to pump them.

In concert with the French authorities, the Grimaldi Group will undertake a submarine survey of the wreck with a remotely operated vessel (ROV).

The sunken ship is located at 4,600 meters depth, Grimaldi says. The world’s deepest-ever shipwreck removal is possible if the Grande America is declared an environmental hazard.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2019. All rights reserved.


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