An oil slick was heading towards the French coast on Thursday after the sinking of the Italian ship “Grande America”, which sank off La Rochelle with hazardous materials and 2,200 tonnes of heavy fuel oil in its bunkers, authorities said.
“During the flight carried out this afternoon over the sinking zone of the Great America by the maritime patrol aircraft Atlantic 2 of the French Navy, an oil slick was located”, indicated in the evening the maritime prefecture in a press release.
The tablecloth extended over ten kilometers long and one kilometer wide, “more than 200 km from the coast”.
These aerial observations were confirmed by the BSAA (Chartered Support and Assistance Building) VN Sapeur, maintained in the area of the sinking, according to the same source. The sea is very rough, with waves of four to six meters.
The Atlantic Maritime Prefect, Vice-Admiral Jean-Louis Lozier, ordered the departure from Brest of the ship specializing in pollution control BSAA Argonaute. He is expected in the area Thursday morning, said the maritime prefecture, indicating that it had also requested the assistance of pollution control resources from the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).
“According to our forecasts, fragments could reach certain areas of the coast of Nouvelle-Aquitaine by Sunday or Monday, due to particularly unfavorable weather, which also risks making depollution operations at sea more delicate”, declared in a press release the night the Minister of Ecology, François de Rugy.
France will in particular deploy at sea four “ships dedicated to anti-pollution operations” and is preparing a “depollution plan on land”, indicated the minister.
Previously, in the afternoon, the maritime prefect announced at a press conference in Brest that the ship was carrying “365 containers, 45 of which were listed as containing hazardous materials and a little more than 2,000 vehicles”. He added that the ship’s holds contained some 2,200 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, the main source of concern according to him, estimating that the facade between Charente-Maritime and Gironde risked being affected by pollution “in several days”.
The prefect once again gave formal notice on Wednesday morning to the owner, Grimaldi Group, to “put an end to the danger to navigation and the marine environment represented by containers and other drifting elements” and to “deal with any possible pollution. maritime ”.
– Violent fire –
The ship sank on Tuesday afternoon 333 kilometers west of La Rochelle at 4,600 meters deep, which could make any pumping operations complicated.
During the night from Sunday to Monday, the 27 occupants of the ship (26 crew members and one passenger) had been rescued by heavy seas and while the building suffered a violent fire. They are safe and sound.
Regarding the containers containing hazardous materials, Mr. Lozier reported having received from the shipowner “a complete inventory” of their contents, including around one hundred tons of hydrochloric acid and some 70 tons of sulfuric acid.
The possible pollution which could be caused by these products “would be very localized”, estimated the vice-admiral of the squadron. “The dilution in ocean space would not have serious consequences for the environment,” he added, stressing that a large part of these products had probably already burned.
The “Grande America”, a hybrid ship between a ro-ro and a container ship, with a length of 214 meters, came from Hamburg (Germany) and was due to go to Casablanca (Morocco) when it was hit by a fire on Sunday evening .
“For now, I have no idea why the fire broke out,” said the maritime prefect. He was informed of a fire in the garage and then of a fire in a container.
The ship was carrying containers on deck and vehicles in its garage decks. “About forty containers fell into the sea before the sinking. Most of them were badly damaged by the fire and probably sank, ”Lozier said.
The Robin des Bois association intends to file a complaint for pollution and abandonment of waste with the Brest district court. “2,000 vehicles, it’s a car junkyard at the bottom of the sea representing hundreds of tons of toxic materials in an area very rich in fish, plankton and marine mammals”, protested to AFP Jacky Bonnemains, door – speech of the NGO, saying also fear a possible pollution of the coast.
The public prosecutor opened an investigation, and the shipowner was ordered to “take all necessary measures to contribute to the fight against pollution,” said Mr. de Rugy in his press release.