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Friday, 17 December, 1999, 12:38 GMT
Clean-up crews battle 'thick' oil slick

Erika Oil is spreading from the wrecked tanker


Unexpectedly thick oil is compounding French authorities' difficulties in containing an oil slick spreading from a tanker wrecked off the coast of Brittany.

Pollution experts say the clean-up operation is being hampered by high winds, rough seas and the oil's viscosity.

The oil has been spreading since Sunday when the Maltese-registered tanker, Erika, broke in half, 70 miles south-west of Brest.

Floating barriers have been erected around the slick to prevent it from spreading further, but attempts to remove oil by suction have been dismissed as "laughable".



The results of the vacuuming were laughable
Pollution expert Christophe Rousseau
Christophe Rousseau, associate director of the pollution research centre in Brest said the oil was more viscous than had been anticipated.

"The results of the vacuuming this morning were laughable," he said.

"The product is very thick, and it seems our vacuum systems aren't adapted."

Around three million gallons of oil have been moving south over an increasing area, provoking fears that the region's picturesque beaches and oyster beds would be damaged.


Bay of Biscay

But officials say that, because the slick is moving parallel to the coastline, it is not expected to hit beaches for another week and only seabirds have so far been affected.

More clean-up vessels are due to arrive from Britain, Norway and Germany, but concerns remain about an estimated 4.3 million gallons of oil still in the hold of the 19,666 tonne vessel, which sank during salvage operations earlier in the week.

Turbulent seas

The Erika had been travelling from Dunkirk, in northern France to Leghorn, Italy, when it hit turbulent seas.

Twenty-six Indian crew members were winched to safety by helicopter, after a distress call was received by the French coastguard.

The vessel's captain is being held in a French jail while under formal investigation for endangering lives and causing maritime pollution.

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See also:
12 Dec 99 |  Europe
Fight to prevent oil spill damage
12 Dec 99 |  Europe
Crew saved from stricken tanker
23 Mar 99 |  Sci/Tech
Exxon Valdez: Tip of an oily iceberg
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