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"Grande America": start of antipollution operations

While two slicks had already been observed Wednesday and Thursday, a news was found Friday during a surveillance flight. Four vessels are trying to minimize the risks for the Atlantic coast.

The World with AFP Posted today at 23:35

Time to Reading 3 min.

An anti-pollution vessel tries to minimize the damage of the "Great America" ​​on March 15th.
An anti-pollution vessel tries to minimize the damage of the "Great America" ​​on March 15th. HANDOUT / AFP

Pollution control operations began Friday (March 15th) in the sinking area of ​​the Italian ship Great America, where a new oil slick has been observed, with the hope of minimizing any risk of pollution of the Atlantic coastline.

These operations, conducted using four specialized vessels, began in the afternoon despite very complicated meteorological conditions in the sinking area of ​​the 214-meter long vessel, whose bunkers were filled with 2,200 tonnes heavy fuel oil. The Great America sank Tuesday 333 kilometers off La Rochelle. "Their effectiveness, however, will remain dependent on weather conditions"noted the Atlantic Maritime Prefecture, in charge of coordinating operations.

Read also "Great America": three questions about a shipwreck and the risk of pollution in France

While two slicks had already been observed Wednesday and Thursday, a news was found Friday during a surveillance flight. With a length of 4.5 kilometers and a width of 500 meters, this new sheet of compact appearance and observed near the sinking area, "Seems to confirm that there is still a release of heavy fuel oil from the wreck", which rests at 4,600 meters deep, said the maritime prefecture in a statement.

The two sheets observed so far measured 13 km long and 7 km wide, one for 9 km long and 7 km wide, for the other. They drifted Thursday full east at the speed of 35 kilometers per day. Friday, however, they could not be observed again because of a very rough sea with hollows of four meters.

Two containers were also located Friday adrift: one to 30 km northeast of the wreck, the other 90 km to the east. Urgent notices to mariners have been issued to warn them of their presence. They should be recovered by the owner of the ship, the Italian company Grimaldi.

Oil slicks

The Great Americabetween a ro-ro and a container ship, it was carrying 365 containers, 45 of which were listed as containing hazardous materials – including around 100 tonnes of hydrochloric acid and 70 others of sulfuric acid – and more than 2,000 vehicles.

He was coming from Hamburg (Germany) and had to go to Casablanca (Morocco) when he was hit by a fire. Its 27 crew members were rescued unharmed in the night from Sunday to Monday and brought back to Brest where an investigation was opened.

The forecasts of winds and currents make fear the arrival of oil slicks on the coasts of Charente-Maritime and Gironde in the coming days. Both departments were placed in "Early warning" to anticipate any risk of pollution and the two prefectures have sent a letter to coastal municipalities to warn them of potential risks.

Read also Probable Pollution of the Coastline After the Sinking of "Great America"

"Insecurity" related to cargo

In La Rochelle, backhoe loaders, gloves, absorbent products and floating rods were ready Friday to fight against a possible arrival of hydrocarbons, the mayor and former skipper Jean-François Fountaine estimating that "The tablecloth will arrive Wednesday, or even later".

On their side, the defenders of the environment, continued Friday to denounce "Insecurity" related to the maritime transport of goods, pointing particularly to cargo problems.

Containers can contain a wide variety of goods "And have very different chemical reactions depending on their nature, which considerably increases the difficulties to fight a fire that would declare on board", told AFP Yannick Le Manac'h, former inspector of maritime affairs and expert for Vigipol, a joint union for the protection of the Brittany coast and the origin of a recent study on the risks of fire and explosion on board container ships. "In 2018, ten billion tons of goods have been transported in the most absolute insecurity for the sailors on board and the environment", has plagued his side Jean-Paul Hellequin, president of the association for the defense of the maritime environment Mor Glaz.

Read also Shipwreck of "Great America": "We never really know what's in containers"
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