- Off the French Atlantic coast, about 300 kilometers from La Rochelle, the container ship "Grande America" has sunk after a fire.
- Now it is a matter of time until the spilled in the accident heavy fuel oil is washed to the coast.
- But the problem is not just the oil – but that the "Grande America" was a kind of floating garbage dump.
Long, sweeping beaches of the finest sand, the mighty waves roaring and lined by high dunes. Millions of tourists love France's Atlantic coast. Many also appreciate the oysters and clams grown in the area around La Rochelle. Both – beaches and oysters – are now threatened by a major environmental catastrophe.
After this week about 300 kilometers from La Rochelle the container ship Grande America sank, it is only a matter of time until the spilled in the accident heavy fuel oil is washed to the coast. On Monday, possibly already on Sunday, according to the French Environment Minister François de Rugy, the oil floating in the sea could reach the coast. The west wind blows it inexorably ashore. According to Rugy, it could also hit the Spanish Bay of Biscay. However, the area most at risk is the area around the mouth of the Gironde and the department of Charente-Maritime with the holiday islands Île de Ré and Île d'Oléron, as well as oyster farming. France's mussel breeders' association is alarmed: It calls on its members to seal off oyster basins from the open sea to prevent pollution of expensive seafood.
2200 tonnes of heavy oil on board
But the problem is not just the oil – but that the Grande America, it turns out, was a kind of floating garbage dump. Among the residents of the Atlantic coast, the impending oil spill especially reminiscent of the devastating accidents of the heather twenty years ago or the Amoco Cadiz Awaken in 1978. Rugy calms down: The 2200 tons of heavy oil that was in the tanks of the Grande America were only a fraction of what the old time accident ships had loaded.
In fact, the question is whether the remaining cargo of the Grande America would pose at least as much of a threat: the ship, now at 4600 meters in fish-rich waters, had loaded 365 containers. According to authorities, 45 of these were filled with dangerous goods – including 100 tons of hydrochloric acid and 70 tons of sulfuric acid. In addition, the freighter carried 2210 vehicles, half of which were older used cars. "The seabed becomes a junkyard," says Jacky Bonnemain of the environmental organization Robin des Bois, who filed a lawsuit against Unknown for the disaster. The pumping out of the oil, which may not have leaked, is "almost impossible" at such depth.
According to the crisis staff set up by the French government, two miles of oil spills have formed on the water surface. Five ships are in operation to prevent their spread – and that they pollute the beaches. "Our goal is to pump as much as possible," says Rugy. However, bad weather and waves up to six meters make it difficult to fight the oil spill. According to Rugy, an underwater robot could be used to inspect the wreckage for cracks.
French prosecutors have started investigations. They check that the Grande America met all safety requirements. Rugy says he wants to know "whether the shipping company or the crew is responsible." The Italian Grimaldi group, which operated the ship, had to pay all the costs of the accident. The shipping company has meanwhile sent a ship to the Bay of Biscay itself. It is to collect floating containers and other garbage from the Grande America.
The 214-meter-long freighter, whose cargo was destined for West Africa and South Africa, was on its way from Hamburg to Casablanca in Morocco when it caught fire last Sunday for unknown reasons. On Tuesday he sank. The crew – 27 people – could be rescued by a British warship.