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Stricken Italian container vessel causes large oil slick off French coast

15 March 2019

French authorities are bracing for a large oil slick to hit the country's coastline after an Italian ship capsized and sank in the Bay of Biscay off La Rochelle on March 13. The container vessel, Grande America, caught fire on March 10 during a trip from Hamburg to Casablanca. All 27 crew have been rescued but a large amount of fuel was reported to have spilled into the ocean.

Grande America ablaze in the Bay of Biscay - Image: French Navy
Grande America ablaze in the Bay of Biscay - Image: French Navy

All 27 crew members were rescued by the British navy frigate HMS Argyll, with assistance from the French authorities.

A slick 10km long and 1km wide is expected to reach Brittany, northwest France, by March 17. Four ships have been sent to fight the spill, and preparations are under way for a clean-up operation on land.

Grimaldi Lines, which operates the ship, said in a statement that 365 containers had been onboard, 45 of which contained "hazardous materials". Among them were 10 tonnes of hydrochloric acid and 70 tonnes of sulphuric acid, according to Vice Adm Jean-Louis Lozier, head of the regional maritime authority.

The cause of the fire is unknown, but is believed to have broken out on the car deck before spreading to a container.

A French regional prosecutor has opened an investigation and France has issued a formal warning to the ship's operator to assess the sunken vessel's situation and prevent further leaks. Grande America contained 2,200 tonnes of fuel oil.


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