Sinking of the “Grande America”: race against pollution

“There is a risk, so we must do everything to reduce it and reduce the impact of pollution on our coasts”, François de Rugy said on BFMTV. “Reconnaissance planes took off from Brittany to go and measure the extent of this slick and see if it continues to be fed by the tanks of the ship which sank and is currently 4,500 meters deep”, added the Minister of Ecological Transition, who was to go to Brest in the early afternoon. An underwater robot could also be deployed to see if there are any cracks in the wreckage that could still leak fuel oil.

“Nothing to see” with the Erika

The oil slick of “more than 10 kilometers” spotted at sea does not indeed correspond to the 2,200 tonnes of propulsion fuel that the ship contained, said Mr. de Rugy. “We prefer to anticipate a risk of pollution and deploy resources”, he further assured, pointing out that this pollution did not “nothing to see” with that caused by the oil tanker Erika in 1999.

“I do not believe that we are, at this stage, in a position to indicate all the elements on the risks”

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, traveling Thursday to Mont-Saint-Michel (Manche), also assured that the government was following “obviously with a lot, a lot, a lot of attention” the consequences of the sinking for “limit the risk as much as possible” pollution. “I do not believe that we are, at this stage, in a position to indicate all the elements on the risks, but I know that the Minister of Transport, the Minister of Ecological Transition and all the public actors on this file are fully mobilized “ for this purpose, added the head of government. An anti-pollution vessel is already in the area and others should be deployed.

A pollution trail 10 km wide for one long

Indeed, an oil slick which extends over ten kilometers in length was located from Wednesday March 13 in the afternoon in the area of ​​the sinking of the Italian ship “Grande America”, off La Rochelle, had announced the Maritime Prefecture of the Atlantic. “During the flight carried out this afternoon over the sinking zone of the Grande America by the maritime patrol plane Atlantic 2 of the French Navy, an oil slick was located“, indicates the maritime prefecture in a press release, which specifies that the slick extends over ten kilometers long and one kilometer wide. The ship contained, in addition to the 2,200 tonnes of heavy fuel oil intended for its propulsion, “365 containers, 45 of which are listed as containing hazardous materials” as well as just over 2,000 vehicles.

If the weather conditions allow it, with very rough seas, the authorities will try to pump the slick at sea and install floating booms. Last resort, “you have to prepare on land, this is the stake for the State, the local communities, so the prefects of the departments are mobilized to prepare resources on land”, underlined François de Rugy, indicating that it was not possible at this stage to say when or where the oil could touch the coasts. However, he mentioned the Charente-Maritime and the Gironde, and even the Spanish coasts.

The ministry told AFP that François de Rugy would go to Brest in the afternoon to the crisis management center and on an anti-pollution ship which will be in the area on Friday. The “Grande America”, a hybrid ship between a ro-ro and a container ship, sank 333 km west of La Rochelle on Tuesday with hazardous materials and 2,200 tonnes of heavy fuel oil in its bunkers, after a fire on board. The investigation opened by the prosecution will make it possible to “go back to history” from the ship and watch “if there is a responsibility of the owner or even the crew”, said François de Rugy. During a press conference on March 14, 2019, Wing Vice-Admiral Jean-Louis Lozier, Maritime Prefect of the Atlantic, announced that he had given notice to the shipowner, asking him to “put an end to the danger to navigation and the marine environment, represented by containers and other drifting elements, and to deal with possible maritime pollution.”

The Great America had undergone checks “in Britain a few years ago that led to a standardization by the shipowner,” added François de Rugy.

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