ON THIS DAY    24 March      Graphics version >>   BBC News >>
Search ON THIS DAY by date   
  Go back one day Go forward one day

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
1978: Tanker Amoco Cadiz splits in two

VIDEO : Fishermen concerned over oil spill

Violent seas have split the Amoco Cadiz super tanker wrecked off the coast of France, destroying any hopes of salvaging any remaining oil and threatening an ecological disaster.

Experts hoped 30,000 to 50,000 tons of oil left in the holds could have been pumped out but this morning's split, off the north coast of Finisterre, means all the 220,000-ton cargo will have escaped into the sea.

Strong tides and winds are driving the oil slick westward raising fears it will affect the Channel Islands and the western coast of the Cherbourg peninsula in France.

The oil spill is now covering 800 square miles (1,287 sq km) since it ran aground on Portsall Rocks, three miles off the coast of Brittany, France, eight days ago, en route from the Gulf to Le Havre.

The French Navy announced 30 ships are working to contain the oil slick.

They include five Royal Navy tugs, two ships from Norway and a vessel from Holland equipped with mechanical shovels.

Officers are working around the clock spraying detergent to disperse the oil slick, and helicopters have been commissioned to assist with this.

Experts said the best form of removing the oil is by sucking it off the sea from another vessel but this is currently not an option as the weather and sea is too volatile.

The slick is being monitored by planes using infra-red cameras and the Landsatt satellite will shortly be taking pictures of it from space.

Environmental damage

The Amoco Cadiz's cargo is already forming a "chocolate mousse" - a dangerous mix of oil and water that forms naturally - which will pollute all life forms it drifts across.

Its damage to the environment is coupled with the long-term effect the oil slick will have on the local economy of shellfish and oyster fishermen.

According to some sources bombing or burning the ship is still being discussed as an option but no decisions have been taken yet.

In 1967 Britain bombed the hulk of the Torrey Canyon for several days but the wreck was destroyed only after all the oil had leaked out.

In Context
The Amoco Cadiz caused the world's worst oil tanker spill at the time.

Devastating scenes of marine life dying under a film of oil were broadcast around the world.

The entire cargo of 1,619,048 barrels spilled into the sea creating a slick 18 miles (29km) wide and 80 miles (128km) long which polluted approximately 200 miles (321km) of the Brittany coastline.

But 21 years later disaster struck again when the oil tanker Erika ran into trouble off Brittany.

Although experts said lessons had been learned from the 1978 disaster the impact of the Erika was still profound.

Its 25,000-ton load affected 250 miles (400km) of coastline, killing or injuring an estimated 300,000 sea birds.


Search ON THIS DAY by date   
  Go back one day Go forward one day

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
^^ Back to top |