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Monday, 20 December, 1999, 10:41 GMT
Oil spill plan activated

slick Oil slicks have claimed the lives of more than 100 birds


France has activated a Franco-Spanish anti-pollution operation, in an attempt to counter possible environmental damage following the break-up of a tanker in the Bay of Biscay.

The Biscay Plan was launched as oil slicks from the stricken tanker, Erika, threatened the Atlantic coastline.

It followed several days of bad weather which had prevented the clean-up operation from taking place.


One cannot approve of a system that uses old tubs, underpaid sailors and minimises controls
French Environment Minister, Dominique Voynet


The Maltese-registered Erika, which had been carrying more than 20,000 tonnes of diesel oil, split in two more than a week ago in rough seas off the French coast.

International fleet

The order to activate the Biscay Plan came as an international fleet of boats headed for the region.

boat Bad weather has delayed the clean-up operation


Two Spanish boats arrived in the area late on Sunday to join four French ships and a Dutch tug already there.

Boats from the Netherlands, Germany and Britain were also expected to arrive at the port of Brest.

Specialist ships have moored in the entrances to ports in Brittany and the Vendee region ready to deploy floating barrages in case the slick approaches.

The oil patches are 70km from the coast, and the French meteorological office says there is no risk of their approaching the coast for five days.

Political reaction

The French Environment Minister Dominique Voynet has reacted to the spill by demanding tougher maritime laws.

"We absolutely must strengthen laws for maritime traffic," she said in an interview with the Journal du Dimanche newspaper.

"One cannot approve of a system that uses old tubs, underpaid sailors and minimises controls."

Captain

The Indian captain of the tanker has remained behind bars pending an investigation into the wreck, but Ms Voynet indicated that the real responsibility might lie elsewhere.

"We simply accept the saying that the captain is the only master on board apart from God, which means often that all the responsibility is put onto some underling," she said.

Meanwhile, the Bird Protection League has said more than 150 sick seabirds have been washed up along a 300km stretch of the French coast.

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See also:
23 Mar 99 |  Sci/Tech
Exxon Valdez: Tip of an oily iceberg
12 Jan 99 |  Sci/Tech
Another Empress before long
12 Dec 99 |  Europe
In pictures: Atlantic rescue
12 Dec 99 |  Europe
Fight to prevent oil spill damage

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