What you need to know about the sinking of the “Grande America”

An oil slick is heading towards the French coast after the sinking of the Italian ship Grande America, which sank off La Rochelle. The vessel contained hazardous materials and 2,200 tonnes of heavy fuel oil in its holds. Hybrid ship between a ro-ro and a container ship with a length of 214 meters, the Grande America came from Hamburg in Germany to go to Casablanca in Morocco. A cargo fire broke out on board Sunday evening and sank 4,600 meters deep on Tuesday afternoon.

If the members of the crew could all be evacuated, the environmental question now arises while the NGO Robin des Bois will file a complaint with the Brest tribunal de grande instance for pollution and waste abandonment.

2,200 tonnes of heavy fuel oil

«We cannot deny that there is a risk for the environment, but we must take a step back. As most of the fuel was confined in the bunkers, the fuel oil has not necessarily escaped yet. Very cold temperatures freeze it at 4,600 meters. What has risen to the surface may be diesel, asks Christophe Reux, Secretary General of the French Federation of Maritime Pilots. The 2,200 tonnes of fuel oil will not go up all at once, they will spill out little by little. ” Analyzes are underway to determine the origin of the products. “In any case, it is not rose water”, Jacky Bonnemains spokesperson for the NGO Robin des Bois, specialized in post-disaster waste.

For this merchant navy officer, a real basic problem remains: the upsurge in fires on board ships, at the origin of the sinking of the Great America. “There is probably a problem with the declaration of goods that present combustion risks or a cohabitation of products that are not made to be together

Contacted by Release, lawyer Corinne Lepage, who had defended the oil slicks from the Amoco Cadiz shipwrecks in 1978 and the Erika in 1999, details: “The risks are very serious. It will be difficult to avoid the arrival of oil on the coasts. It is certainly not a very important pollution, 2,200 tons of heavy fuel oil whereas the Erika was an oil tanker and carried more than 30,000 tons. But this remains heavy fuel oil, at the bottom of the tank, which arrives in the form of pellets on the beaches. And the containers, in which it is still not known what was inside, also pose a risk of chemical pollution, which no one is talking about.She recognizes that significant efforts have been made in terms of maritime safety since the Erika, but that “Progress mainly relates to the transport of hydrocarbons: there with a freighter, it is not the same legislation”

A 10 km long oil slick

«During the flight performed [ce jeudi] above the Grande America sinking zone by the Atlantic 2 maritime patrol aircraft of the French Navy, an oil slick was located“, The maritime prefecture said in a statement on Wednesday evening. The slick was about ten kilometers long and one kilometer wide, “more than 200 km from the coast».

Oil slicks linked to the sinking of the Italian boat “could touch the French coast around Sunday evening or Monday“, Estimates François de Rugy, the Minister for the Ecological Transition.

Oil dumplings and pancakes on the beaches

«Oil dumplings and pancakes will land on the beaches of the Atlantic in the coming weeks, especially during the Easter holidays. Every possible precaution should be taken to block the entrance to ports and shellfish farms. Fishermen, oyster farmers and all sea professionals will be the most penalized», Regrets the defender of the environment Jacky Bonnemains.

The Robin des Bois association intends to file a complaint for pollution and abandonment of waste with the Brest tribunal de grande instance. “There is a car junkyard at the bottom of the ocean with 2,000 polluting cars carried by the boat and the toxic materials that go with it, assures Jacky Bonnemains, spokesperson for the NGO. These are cars deemed to be non-standard in France which are sent to Africa. This accident is the mirror of North-South trade. And there are three to four ships like that a week.»

Risks for marine flora and fauna

«The shipwreck took place in an area where flora and fauna are very rich. The first direct victims will be plankton, fish and marine mammals, emphasizes Jacky Bonnemains. Beyond fuel oil, a rise in plastics and various waste from the ship is expected. They are not hazardous materials per se, but in large quantities they can be hazardous to fish, marine mammals and birds», He assures.

Allain Bougrain-Dubourg, president of the Bird Protection League, abounds. If the quantities of fuel oil are much less than during the sinking of the Erika, heavy fuel oil remains very problematic for the birds and very difficult to clean up for the volunteers (at the time, the volunteers were only able to save 20% of affected birds that they had recovered). Even in the event that the oil could be pumped out before reaching the beaches, “offshore pelagic birds (who live on the high seas) swill be affected: for example the family of the alcidae and among them the Common Guillemots, the razorbills and the puffins, which are at the end of the wintering period and have not returned to nest, as well as pygmy gulls“. If the fuel oil reached the coast, other birds would be affected: “black scoters, terns, small waders, or even brent geese – migratory birds which have not yet returned to Siberia ”. He regrets that despite the promises made after the sinking of the Erika, few care centers are established on the coast to be able to come to the aid of affected birds: “IThere is one in Nantes and another in the Arcachon basin, but nothing in between, where birds are likely to arrive. There is only our mobile care unit but it is insufficient

“Laxity around maritime transport”

The sinking of the Grande America gave rise to a political battle. Yannick Jadot, head of the EE-LV list for the Europeans, criticized Thursday “the laxity that there is often around maritime transport. The international maritime organization is trusted by all the flags of convenience which are constantly trying to fight against all the rules that are social, security and environmental.» «I don’t know what laxity Yannick Jadot is talking about. We have an action that is extremely determined for maritime safety», Replied the Minister of Ecological and Inclusive Transition François de Rugy. He notably cited the creation of maritime routes “very strictly supervised»And a European Maritime Safety Agency.

In Europe “from the moment we come […] in a large European port, there are controls“, He still defended. Europe is also in the process of “to impose on international maritime transport, in any case on all ships that will come to European ports, to change the engine to no longer use this heavy fuel oilBut liquefied natural gas, recalled the minister.

Nathan Mann


Julia Castaing



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