Fuel Oil Spill from Sunken Con/Ro Could Reach Shore

Grande America on fire, March 11 (Marine Nationale)

By The Maritime Executive 03-15-2019 05:14:35

According to drift forecasts, the fuel oil pollution from the sunken con/ro Grande America may make it to shore on France's Bay of Biscay coastline, and could arrive in the vicinity of La Rochelle as early as Sunday evening or Monday morning. 

When the Grande America went down on Tuesday, she was carrying 365 containers, about 2,000 cars and 2,200 tonnes of HFO. French authorities are currently focused on the pollution risk from her fuel oil. The America was carrying dangerous goods, but the quantities were relatively small, and are likely to dissipate if released. Plastic litter is a possibility: several dozen containers went over the side before she went down, and as in the case of the MSC Zoe spill, their contents could eventually float up on shore. The fuel, however, is already a visible source of pollution, and has formed a slick measuring about 10 kilometers long by one kilometer wide. French responders have deployed pollution control assets to the area, but with rough surface conditions, their ability to contain the spill is limited.  

Vigipol, a French environmental organization formed after the Amoco Cadiz disaster, warned that the hull of the America could continue to release fuel over time, making her a persistent source of pollution if left unaddressed.

Multiple inquiries into the cause of the casualty continue. The regional prosecutor in Brest has opened an investigation, and French minister of ecology Francois de Rugy called for an examination of all factors, including port state control measures. "It will be necessary to identify the responsibilities of each in the Grande America accident, to draw all the lessons from it and to evaluate the need to reinforce the controls in the ports," de Rugy said in a radio interview Friday. 

French rescue agency Premar Atlantique received a distress call from the America at 2000 hours Sunday night reporting a container fire at a position off Brest, in the Bay of Biscay. The situation on board quickly deteriorated, and the fire grew out of control. The master ordered abandon ship at 0200 hours, and the crew of the Royal Navy frigate HMS Argyll worked through difficult conditions to bring America's crew on board. All survived, but some required medical treatment, and they were evacuated by helicopter on Monday morning. 

Efforts to fight the fire with water were abandoned early on due to concerns about its effects on the ship's stability. The America took on a gradually increasing list to starboard, and on Tuesday afternoon, she went down at a position about 180 nm southwest of Les Sables d'Olonne.