Sunken Con/Ro's Fuel Continues to Wash Ashore in Bay of Biscay

Grande America, March 12, 2019 (Premar Atlantique)

Published Feb 24, 2020 4:33 PM by The Maritime Executive

Small amounts of fuel from the sunken con/ro Grande America are still washing up on France's Bay of Biscay coastline, according to regional maritime agency Premar Atlantique. 

On February 17-18, patches of heavy oil were discovered on a number of beaches in the departments of Loire-Atlantique and Vendée. On the most heavily affected sites, a few tens of kilos of pollutants have been recovered, as well as several birds carrying traces of oil.

Upon the discovery of the oil, Premar Atlantique mobilized its response services and called up the French government's water pollution center of expertise (CEDRE) to try to determine the origin of the oil. The first CEDRE analysis shows similarities with the bunker fuel from the con/ro Grande America, which sank in the Bay of Biscay on March 12, 2019, the agency said. 

Premar Atlantique has stepped up its maritime surveillance operation off the Loire coastline in order to provide early detection of any additional pollution. Extra aerial overflights were also carried out near the site of the Grande America sinking. No pollution at sea has been detected since the oil patches were discovered on shore.

The agency has asked the public not to touch or disturb any blobs of oil that they may find on the beach, and to report pollution to the authorities for cleanup and analysis. 

The con/ro Grande America suffered a catastrophic fire on the night of March 10, 2019. The situation on board deteriorated rapidly, and the crew abandoned ship within about four hours of making a distress call. The fire's intensity increased and the vessel developed a list. Grande America ultimately sank on the afternoon of March 12, coming to rest about 4,600 meters below the surface. 

Pollution abatement for bunker fuel from the wreck continued through late April. Deep ocean search company Ocean Infinity used an ROV to plug the vents on Grande America's fuel tanks, and pollution response vessels skimmed off as much bunker fuel from the surface as possible. The French government has contined to use the European Maritime Safety Agency's Cleanseanet satellite system to regularly monitor the wreck site for any sign of oil.