Sinking of the Great America: the Brittany coasts (France) exposed to pollution

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A tablecloth of hydrocarbons was on Thursday to the French coasts after the sinking of the Italian ship "Grande America", which sank off La Rochelle with dangerous materials and 2,200 tons of heavy fuel oil in its bunkers, announced the authorities.

"During the flight carried out this afternoon over the shipwreck area of the Great America by the maritime patrol aircraft Atlantic 2 of the National Navy, an oil slick was localized," said in the evening the Maritime Prefecture in a Press release.

The tablecloth stretched over a dozen kilometers long and a kilometre wide, "more than 200 km from the coasts".

These aerial observations were confirmed by the BSAA (chartered support and assistance building) VN Sapeur, maintained on the shipwreck area, according to the same source. The sea is very strong, with waves of four to six meters.

The maritime prefect of the Atlantic, Vice-Admiral Jean-Louis Lozier, ordered the equipment from Brest of the ship specializing in the pollution control BSAA Argonaute. It is expected on Thursday morning, clarified the Maritime Prefecture, stating that it also requested the assistance of the European Agency for maritime safety (EMSA) for pollution control.

"According to our forecasts, fragments could reach certain areas of the coasts of new Aquitaine by Sunday or Monday, due to a particularly unfavourable weather, which also threatens to make the pollution abatement operations more sensitive at sea, "said in a communiqué in the night the Minister of ecology, François de Rugy.

In particular, France will deploy four "ships dedicated to anti-pollution operations" at sea and prepare a plan for "land-based remediation", the Minister said.

Previously, in the afternoon, the maritime prefect announced at a press conference in Brest that the ship was carrying "365 containers, of which 45 listed as containing hazardous materials and just over 2,000 vehicles". He added that the bunkers contained some 2,200 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, the main source of concern he felt, that the façade between the Charente-Maritime and the Gironde was likely to be affected by pollution "in several days".

The prefect has once again set out on Wednesday morning the shipowner, Grimaldi group, to "put an end to the danger for navigation and the marine environment represented by containers and other elements adrift" and to "deal with possible pollution maritime ".

-Violent fire-

The vessel sank on Tuesday afternoon 333 kilometers west of La Rochelle by 4,600 metres in depth, which could make possible the pumping operations complicated.

On the night of Sunday to Monday, the 27 occupants of the ship (26 crew members and one passenger) were rescued by a dismounted sea and the building was experiencing a violent fire. They're safe.

Concerning containers containing dangerous substances, Mr. Lozier reported that he received from the shipowner "a complete inventory" of their contents, including about 100 tonnes of hydrochloric acid and some 70 tonnes of sulfuric acid.

The possible pollution that could be caused by these products "would be very localized", said wing Vice-Admiral. "Dilution in oceanic space would not cause serious environmental consequences," he added, pointing out that a large proportion of these products were likely already burned.

The "Grande America", a hybrid ship between a trailer and a container vessel, 214 metres long, was coming from Hamburg (Germany) and was due to travel to Casablanca (Morocco) when it was hit by a fire on Sunday night.

"For now, I have no idea why the fire has been declared," the maritime prefect said. He was informed of a fire in the garage and then a fire in a container.

The vessel was carrying containers on deck and vehicles in its garage decks. "Some forty containers fell to the sea before the sinking. Most of them were badly damaged by the fire and presumably sank, "Mr. Lozier said.

The Robin Hood association intends to complain about pollution and waste disposal at the Brest Court of great instance. "2,000 vehicles, it is a car heist at the bottom of the sea representing hundreds of tons of toxic material in an area very rich in fish, plankton and marine mammals", has rebelled with AFP Jacky Bonnemains, spokesperson of the NGO, also feared a possible coastal pollution.

The Prosecutor of the Republic opened an investigation, and the shipowner was called upon to "take all necessary measures to assist in the fight against pollution", Mr de Rugy also stated in his communiqué. Rtl

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