On March 12, when a fire gnawed at the Grande America for two days, the Italian container ship has been sinking 330 kilometers off the coast of Charente-Maritime. Its wreck sank at a depth of 4,600 meters. Its bunkers contained 2,200 tonnes of fuel oil and 190 tonnes of marine diesel, and still continue to release hydrocarbons into the ocean today. Very quickly, the maritime prefect dispatched ships to the site to contain the pollution. The invoice will be sent to the shipowner, who has so far been cooperative. No risk of an oil spill, but on March 14, an oil slick 10 km long and 1 km wide was located. It seems to be heading towards the French coast. For nearly three weeks, teams have been working continuously in the area to limit the consequences on the environment and navigation. Where we are ? And what happened to the 365 containers, including 1,050 tonnes of hazardous materials, as well as the 2,100 vehicles on board?
Where is the fuel oil pollution?
Currently, the operation is being carried out on two fronts. The first area of pollution is above the wreckage. “There is a continuous leak of fuel oil, of small quantity but diffuse. In this case, we work at the source and the dispersion phenomenon is quite limited ”, specifies Captain Riaz Akhoune, spokesperson for the maritime prefecture. The second oil plate, called “Front front”, was formed at the time of the sinking of the Grande America and drifted. It is currently 297 km west of the mouth of the Gironde and 225 km from the Spanish coast. It is the one that can represent a risk for the beaches in the short term. “The front is increasingly dispersed, hence the importance of acting quickly. We have anticipated, so the means have come very quickly to the area and, as soon as the weather permits, we act on the areas of pollutants that are identified ”, ajoute Riaz Akhoune.
[#GrandeAmerica] #Understand : In water, the hydrocarbon emulsifies, splits up and disperses over currents, wind and swell. It is essential to act offshore:
➡️1 ton of pollution recovered from the sea, that’s 10 tons of waste less on our beaches. pic.twitter.com/1LyK10VyQD
— Premar Atlantique (@premaratlant) 22 mars 2019
On average since the start of the crisis, the maritime patrol has made two flights per day and eight boats are continuously mobilized on site. They are French, Spanish and European, all coordinated by Ceppol, an organization of the French Navy. Since March 18, booms have been deployed to suck up oil from the surface and trawls collect heavy fuel oil pellets in fine nets.
Read also Sinking of the “Grande America”: La Rochelle looks worriedly towards the shore
The drift committee, made up of scientists, first announced that fuel oil cakes could arrive in Charente-Maritime around March 18, then not before March 29. But a recent change of course is once again shaking up forecasts. After having skirted the French coasts towards the south, the front front started a turn towards the west, and is now heading rather towards the Spanish coasts. From now on, we no longer give a date of possible pollution of the beaches. “One day or another, oil cakes from Grande America will arrive ashore. This is probably one of the only certainties ”, pointe Riaz Akhoune.
— Premar Atlantique (@premaratlant) 27 mars 2019
For the moment, the only trace of pollution found on our beaches concerns two oiled birds. The first, a northern gannet in Hendaye (Pyrénées Atlantiques), died, while the second, a Great Labbe in Messanges (Landes) was taken care of by a wildlife care center but did not survive .
These last three days, the currents not allowing the boats to track the pollution, two of them returned to the port of La Rochelle. In their belly, around thirty tons of heavy fuel oil. Since the beginning, between 400 and 500 tonnes of more or less concentrated polluted water have also been pumped. “The shipowner has signed a contract with a company that will unload, take charge and treat. We do not go to all this trouble at sea and then not properly process the waste collected ”, avance Riaz Akhoune.
Do we know what happened to the containers and the wreck?
The chemicals loaded on the boat probably evaporated in the furnace near 500 degrees. “We think that most of them burned down since the fire lasted a very long time, tended to increase. There are several containers that went overboard before the ship sank, and when it sank, several containers scattered ”, declared the Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, François de Rugy, on March 14. On the whole of the cargo, he specifies that about ten containers which left for the sea were the subject of urgent notices to mariners and sank because they were too damaged. Their position is listed on maps. Five others were drafted. They all contained crisps except one which contained animal feed.
What do we know about what now lies in the seabed? “This remains a matter of concern. Once we have dealt with the floating containers, the most urgent marine pollution, the wreck is at the bottom and will not move. This leaves some time to study the treatment modalities. Continuous pollution must be avoided which would prevent life from regaining its rights in this area ”, answers Captain Riaz Akhoune. The shipowner has just chartered Island Pride for this second leg. Thanks to an underwater robot, he will inspect the wreckage, and in priority the bunkers. Then he will have to present an action plan to the Atlantic Maritime Prefecture. However, the wreckage and the containers it contains are located at a depth of more than 4000 meters. Difficult, therefore, to imagine a major operation to put everything together.