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Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited
23 December 1999 – France
A French coastal region, threatened with pollution from the approaching oil slick from wrecked m tanker Erika, today asked a court for an emergency ruling to appoint experts to assess the cost of possible pollution damage. The legal suit was targetted against the owners of the Erika, Italy's Panship Management, and French oil company TotalFina, which chartered the vessel. Philippe de Villiers, head of the regional council of Vendee which filed the suit, said he wanted TotalFina and Panship to pay for the expert opinion. The court is expected to make a ruling tomorrow morning. TotalFina said the blame for the spill lay with Panship but has provided one billion francs ($154 million) worth of anti-pollution equipment to the authorities. Meteo France said today that strong winds and currents have caused the 60km-long oil slick to turn northwards, meaning it looked set to hit the resort of LeCroisic, near Nantes, on December 26.
24 December 1999 – A number of French local authorities announced yesterday that they were taking legal action against Tevere Shipping and the TotalFina oil group, owner and charterer of m tanker Erika. The general council of the department of Vendee voted in special session yesterday morning to take legal action, along with the district council of the island of Yeu and local fishermen's organizations, against the shipping company and oil group. Similar action has been taken by local authorities representing the islands of Re and Oleron and the town of Marennes on the Atlantic coast, whose interests are being represented by lawyer and former environment minister, Corinne Page. The master of the Erika, Captain Krun Mathur, was released from custody by an examining magistrate on Wednesday (December 22) following protests from shipping and environmental organizations, but Madame Page said:
I would find it hard to understand that the captain of the Erika, who looks very much like the fall guy at the moment, should be the only one incriminated.
Thick oil from sunken m tanker Erika could strand at Isle of Yeu, France on Christmas night or early December 26 and could strike the mainland after midday on December 26, French weather forecasters say. The shoreline at risk consists of rocky coast and small sandy beaches. Yeu has a small harbour for about 300 fishing vessels. Spill-combating equipment arrived at Yeu on December 22 and coastal defence preparations are also underway at Sable d'Olonne at the mouth of the harbour in La Rochelle. Sea and shore spill co-ordinators have now begun direct co-ordination of their efforts, the French Centre of Documentation, Research and Experimentation on Accidental Water Pollution (CEDRE) reports. More than 230 birds have been oiled, according to CEDRE.
25 December 1999 – Sticky fuel oil from m tanker Erika washed up at dozens of points along France's Atlantic coast today as stormy seas kept authorities guessing where the rest of the slick would head. Jean Lagadec, who lives in Ploemeur, outside the major port of Lorient, told France-Info radio:
It's coming in big pools and completely devastating the rocks and the coves.Even the railing along the boardwalk is covered with it.
Environment Minister, Dominique Voynet, said authorities believed that, due to tough weather conditions, oil would continue coming ashore in small patches for several weeks. Authorities along hundreds of kilometres of seaboard have taken emergency measures, placing floating booms at the mouths of rivers, to fight what could be an environmental disaster, hitting fishing, oyster farming and tourism. Weather stations warned that overnight winds could rise to 140kph, whipping up waves of up to seven metres and leaving authorities unsure of where the giant slick would hit next. The first oil reached shore yesterday in the Finistere region, near the southern tip of Brittany, affecting a 100km stretch of coast, local authorities said. Residents further south, at Ploemeur, reported big patches arriving there, as well as on three beaches on the island of Belle-lie. Animal protection activists said there were many dead seabirds and reported picking up 6,000 live birds dripping oil. TotalFina, under fire for its handling of the spill, has pledged to clean up the mess and to pump out the oil still trapped in the sunken vessel. So far an international flotilla of pumping vessels, battling bad weather, has only been able to mop up some 1,000 tonnes of the oil.
28 December 1999 – A press report, dated Lorient today, states:
France will use its presidency of the European Union next year to seek tighter international regulation on oil tankers to help avoid ecological disasters such as the one blackening its Atlantic coast, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said today.
M tanker Erika poured three million gallons of oil into the sea when she broke in two on December 12 on France's northwestern shore. The Franco-Belgian oil group TotalFina had chartered the tanker to carry refined heavy oil from Rotterdam to Leghorn. While touring the oil-laden beaches of Brittany, Jospin said:
I think that the French presidency will be without doubt a good time for our country to try to advance regulations.
The oil hit land last weekend after efforts to pump it from the sea failed. Storms ravaging the same coastline since Sunday (December 26) have compounded the problem, and the submerged tanker has leaked more oil, with a new six-mile slick drifting toward the coast. Hundreds of volunteers have joined the clean-up effort, shoveling thick oil from the formerly white, sandy beaches. Underwater cameras were to check on the state of the broken tanker, which still contains large amounts of oil, later in the week when weather conditions improve, officials said. TotalFina headquarters outside Paris were the scene of angry protests yesterday by Greenpeace activists who said the company should be completely liable for the accident. Today, France's Green Party called for a boycott of the company's gas stations. TotalFina has said it is not legally responsible for the accident but says it is prepared to help meet the costs of the clean-up. France will assume the European Union presidency in the second half of 2000.
29 December 1999 – Clean-up workers stepped up efforts today to scrape away thick slabs of oil coating the beaches and rocky shores of France's Atlantic coast, as storms that hampered operations for days cleared. Thousands of volunteers, soldiers and professionals, many wearing oilsplattered yellow overalls and rain-boots, scooped up the residue with shovels, pails and gloved hands, as the foul-smelling oil continued to wash ashore. The latest 6.25-mile slick dissipated yesterday and experts said it may have been the fuel of m tanker Erika rather than the cargo she carried. Broken-up oil continued to drift in the sea today. Underwater cameras, manoeuvered by robots, were to check on the state of the tanker, which still contains large amounts of oil. France's Communist Party has called on TotalFina to pay the entire cost of the cleanup. TotalFina has said it is not legally responsible for the accident but says itis prepared to help meet the costs of the clean-up.
30 December 1999 – TotalFina should be prepared to pay outstanding clean-up costs from a devastating oil spill off France's west coast after one of its chartered tankers, m tanker Erika, sank, the Environment Ministry said today. Environment Minister, Dominique Voynet, said the cost of pumping the oil from the sea and scraping it off beaches would exceed the 1.2 billion francs ($184 million) put up by oil industry compensation fund Fipol. The ministry said:
The minister has reminded TotalFina Chairman Thierry Desmarest of the responsibility of his company, (and) insisted, in particular, on the moral obligation of the oil group to take on the costs from the catastrophe.
It is unthinkable that these should be charged to the state or the victims.
Finance Minister, Christian Sautter, refrained from pressurising the oil group, saying it was up to TotalFina to decide how much aid it would offer. He said:
I feel TotalFina is ready to make a gesture but they're a business and it's up to them to decide what to do.
The government has pledged 40 million francs to help locals along the affected parts of the coastline, mostly in Brittany and Vendee. Fipol, to which TotalFina is a contributor, has said it will pay 1.195 billion francs. Sautter did not rule out the government stumping up more money if the clean-up operation cost more than that, but stressed it was hard to estimate the final cost at this point. He said:
Let's see first of all what the size of the damage is. For now we are in the midst of a human and ecological drama, we are not yet at a stage to work out the bill.
The Environment Ministry said some 17,150 sea-birds had been picked up, to date, covered in oil, of which 5,240 were already dead. Thousands of the creatures have been transported to rescue centres in the UK, Belgium and The Netherlands to be cleaned. TotalFina has said it feels morally obliged to help clean up the spill but maintains that legal responsibility for the accident lies with Italian shipowner, Panship Management. TotalFina Chairman, Desmarest, said yesterday he was "truly sorry" for the accident and its consequences and reiterated a pledge to clean up the mess. However he did not say how much of the final bill the company was willing to shoulder. Desmarest also said he backed calls from the government for a far-reaching review of international shipping regulations.
30 December 1999 – TotalFina today announced a 40 million franc ($6.13 million) emergency fund to clean up an oil spill from m tanker Erika. TotalFina said it was also prepared to pay around ten times as much again to empty the sunken wreck of her remaining cargo of oil, believed to be around 20,000 tonnes. In a statement the company said:
TotalFina will directly finance the pumping of fuel from the wreck of Erika. (We) will support the work to ensure it is done under the best technical conditions and with the shortest possible delay.
TotalFina Chairman, Thierry Desmarest, leaving a meeting with Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to discuss what has become one of France's worst ecological disasters, said:
We have in our heads a sum of around 400 million francs.
The 40 million franc emergency fund will be used to buy equipment to help remove the sticky, black sludge from the Atlantic coastline and to pay for temporary storage for the oil, TotalFina said. It will also fund a mammoth operation to aid the hundreds of volunteers and army troops battling to shovel up the fuel oil. TotalFina said it had deployed a number of firms with specialist teams of personnel who would start work next week.
2 January 2000 – A new wave of heavy fuel oil from m tanker Erika has washed onto France's storm-battered western coast, leaving beaches looking today as if they had been hit by a plague of black jellyfish. The latest area to be hit was Isle de Re, a jagged point below the north-western peninsula of Brittany, whose wealth of sandy beaches and rocky inlets are a haven for seabirds and tourists in summertime. More than 13,000 birds have so far been contaminated by the slick. Over the weekend, the French League for the Protection of Birds reported the first seal snared by oil, on a beach near Lorient. In the Loire-Atlantique region, army teams worked over the weekend to protect the tiny port of La Turballe, where fishing vessels were locked in during efforts to contain an oil onslaught. A robot is being deployed to explore the sunken Erika but no information on its findings has yet been released.
Tar-balls and oil patties continued to strand farther south along the French coastline, this weekend, striking headlands in the Department of Charente-Maritime, for the first time, local and regional officials reported. Experts lost contact with a robot submarine examining the stern of the tanker, which has been releasing oil sheen. Contact was lost on January 2, 12 hours after it began examining the stern. The robot, Abyssub 5000, apparently had become wedged or broken down. Experts planned to deploy a second robot submarine to find the Abyssub 5000, on January 3. The pollution at Isle de Re was light to moderate and an army of shoreline cleaners may have it removed within a few days. Beaches at Sable d'Orlonne and at Isle d'Oleron were also affected. About 500 volunteers joined firefighters and soldiers in the clean-up on January 2. In the Vendee Department, workers at 60 sites were collecting 2,000 to 2,500 tonnes of oiled waste each day. Total Fina has promised to lighten the wreck.
3 January 2000 – An underwater robot monitoring the wreckage of m tanker Erika is jammed and has stopped relaying images, officials said today. The robot, which had been in operation for only 12 hours, was keeping tabs on the tanker that split in half on December 12. Authorities had hoped to use the robot's pictures to determine how to remove the tanker's remaining oil cargo. "Investigations for the time being have been interrupted" local authorities said in a statement today adding that a second robot will soon be sent down to try and repair the existing one. A second mini-submarine was due to be sent down this afternoon, in an attempt to recover the Abyssub, but French authorities indicated in mid-afternoon that they would delay the recovery operation because of difficult sea conditions. Subsea operations company, Comex, said that whatever the results of the inspection, efforts to pump the estimated 20,000 tonnes of fuel oil still in the tanker of Erika were unlikely to get under way for three or four months. Comex commercial manager, Michel Plutarque, said that there was little chance of the oil escaping from the wreck in the meantime. The temperature of the water meant the fuel was in a virtually solid state, he said, to the extent that it would have to be rendered fluid by a solvent or hot water before pumping could begin.
4 January 2000 – Maritime officials said today fears of further oil leaks from sunken m tanker Erika off the west coast of France appeared to have subsided. A robot sent to explore the vessel, which spewed a wave of heavy black fuel along 400km of coastline, has found no leaks in the holds, which still contain between 15,000 and 20,000 tonnes of oil, they said. Admiral Yves Naquet-Radiguet, who is in charge of the Atlantic coast, said:
I think we're beginning to see the end of this disaster … If there is no leak in the hull, and frankly I don't think there is, then I don't think there is the risk of a new slick.
However, the Abyssub robot has only explored the rear section of the wreckage of the vessel, which broke up in stormy seas on December 12, dumping some of her cargo. Experts disagree over whether the fuel remaining in the vessel's holds could rise to the surface before it can be pumped out of the wreck in a few months time. Maritime authorities spokesman, Michel Vivier, said the findings of the Abyssub robot, sent at the weekend (January 1-2) to investigate the two halves of the vessel on the ocean floor, appeared to allay fears that oil was leaking from the wreckage:
The first group of pictures by the Abyssub of a large part of the rear section of the Erika did not show any cracks in her holds.
The wreckage lies on the ocean floor 120 metres deep, about 70km south of the Brittany coast. After transmitting 12 hours of video footage of the wreckage on Friday and Saturday, the Abyssub ceased responding to the remote control manoeuvred by experts on board a French Navy vessel. A second robot will be sent down to the wreckage when the seas calm. A group of international experts were due to meet in the town of Lorient tomorrow, to set up a procedure to compensate fishermen and oyster farmers. More than 13,000 birds have so far been contaminated by the slick, which is polluting fisheries.
7 January 2000 – France's food safety watch-dog today recommended a ban on the sale of shellfish and salt from coastlines most affected by oil spilled from the sunken m tanker Erika. The food safety agency, known as AFSSA, said that any shellfish harvested after the oil spill and not immediately placed in purified water should not be sold. The agency also recommended a Government ban on fishing from the shore in the region and said fish caught at sea should be tested before sale to make sure they are not contaminated. AFSSA also recommended today that salt and seaweed from the "visibly affected" coasts should not be sold. The agency said it expected to produce a more detailed analysis of the risks to food, once it had an exact breakdown of the components contained in the leaked oil. Another worry for environmentalists is some six million gallons of oil still contained in the holds of the broken vessel, most in the rear half of the tanker.
8 January 2000 – Salvors Les Abeilles International and Smit International have told the French authorities they are ready to start recovering the estimated 20,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil in the tanks of the sunken m tanker, Erika, within a matter of days. The firms, which are ready to use a robot system developed by Norwegian pump specialist Frank Mohn, say there is no need to wait for three or four months to begin pumping oil from the Erika's tanks, as has been suggested. They claim that they can begin operations within two weeks if they get the go-ahead from French authorities and TotalFina, which has indicated it is ready to pay for the recovery operation. Although inspection of the two sunken sections of Erika has not yet been completed, Les Abeilles' chief executive, Jean Labescat, said that, having seen the first results of the video inspection of the aft section, he was confident that the operation could be carried out successfully. Les Abeilles and Smit are proposing to use a remote off-loading system (Rols) which has already been used to recover oil from a Second World War vessel which sank in a Norwegian fjord and from the wreck of the disaster-struck m passenger/ro-ro ferry, Estonia. Last summer, moreover, Smit and Frank Mohn successfully recovered oil, including 3,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil of the type in the tanks of Erika, from two small tankers which sunk off the South Korean port of Pusan. The Rols, which would itself be positioned by a remote operating vehicle (Rov), would drill two holes in the Erica's hull, a lower one which would be covered by a base plate and one-way valve and an upper one, through which it would pump the oil from the vessel's tanks. The system provides for heating of the oil to give it greater fluidity as it is brought to the surface. According to Mr Labescat, it can off-load 500 tonnes of oil daily, which he estimated would enable it complete the recovery in 70 days. Les Abeilles and Smit proposed using Smit's recently converted m semi-submersible heavy-lift-vessel Smit Pioneer, for the operation. The vessel is available and has oil storage capacity. To protect against accidental spillage, Briggs Marine Environmental Services' m tanker British Shield, which has already taken part in efforts to recover oil from Erika on the surface of the sea, would be on hand. Mr Labescat said that the partners hoped to be able to formally present their project to TotalFina and the French authorities in the next few days. He acknowledged that there would probably be competition for the oil recovery contract but argued that the system Les Abeilles and its partners were proposing was "unique". He declined to say how much it would cost but insisted it was "cost effective". He said:
We have tried to put together a package which will put every chance of success on our side.
Rough sea conditions have prevented underwater inspection of the wreck of Erika from proceeding this week. One mini-submarine, the Abyssub, has broken down at the wreck site, probably with a trapped supply line, and a second one, the Achilles, is not equipped to free it, having no operating arm. A third submarine, a Triton belonging to Coflexip Siena Offshore, has now been brought from Aberdeen and the French authorities are waiting for weather conditions to improve sufficiently to send it down to free Abyssub and continue inspection of Erika.
9 January 2000 – The French Government says it wants the Totalfina oil company to pay more compensation for the huge oil spill polluting the country's western coasts. The company has already promised to contribute to the clean-up operation, but French Tourism Minister, Michele Demessine, says Totalfina should also take part in efforts to support the region's damaged tourism industry. Earlier the French authorities banned the collection and sale of shellfish from the region, after fears that they may contain cancer-causing chemicals from the oil. Tourist authorities in France are holding crisis talks to assess the likely impact of an oil slick from m tanker Erika which has killed thousands of sea birds and damaged the coast of Brittany. Fears are mounting that the area will be dealt a second blow as holiday-makers cancel their vacations in the wake of one of the country's worst environmental disasters. Lawyers representing some 50 towns along the affected coastline are calling for a pollution assessment to enable local residents and businesses to calculate compensation demands.
11 January 2000 – An underwater robot today completed inspection of the rear of wrecked m tanker Erika and reported no major leaks from the oil still inside, authorities said. The Triton XL, sent down to the wreck last week to relieve an earlier robot which got stuck, found only a "very sparse" dribble of hydrocarbon fuel coming from a bridge hatch at the rear of the wrecked hull and a trickle of air bubbles in a nearby area, the maritime prefecture said. However, a probe of the front section of the wreck has yet to take place. The Triton robot was due to begin exploring the bow section of the Erika as soon as possible, a maritime official said. Some 300,000 marine birds have been killed or affected by the sticky, black oil that has washed up along 250 miles of the Atlantic coast after the vessel broke in two and sank in stormy seas in mid-December. Experts have clashed, in the days since the devastating oil spill, over whether an estimated 20,000 tons of heavy fuel oil still inside the hull could rise to the surface before it can be pumped out later this year. While it has been feared that pumping up the remaining oil may not start for several months, given it is so thick it will need to be heated first, two salvage firms have said they could start recovering it within a couple of weeks.
12 January 2000 – Severe corrosion was found in tanker Erika only weeks before she sank but no immediate remedial action was taken. Wastage was discovered in the deck longitudinals in the ballast tanks at the point where it is believed the vessel cracked and then broke up, off the western coast of France. Evidence found in an investigation by Lloyd's List has revealed that a ship surveyor identified potential problems on the vessel during a survey on November 24 in Augusta. The surveyor, from Italian classification society Rina, indicated in his report that there were doubts about the thickness of the longitudinal deck structures in the area of ballast tank 2 port and 2 starboard. Her safety certificates were endorsed as a result. The report recommended a further examination this month of the deck longitudinal and thickness measurements inside the ballast tanks. Before that deadline, the vessel sank. Official sources confirmed that such recommendations from the surveyor are not reported on the official ship certificates. The only bodies to have known would have been Rina and Panship, the Erika's Ravenna-based manager. Malta, which flagged the vessel, would not have been informed. Rina managing director, Nicola Squassafichi, said yesterday that the thickness measurements are required as part of the annual inspection plan for old tankers. He said:
But the surveyor did not have the chance to make thickness measurements.
Meanwhile, a lawyer representing the master of Erika confirmed yesterday that his client had signalled signs of rusting in one of the vessel's ballast tanks to her owners in November. The lawyer, Michel Quimbert, said that Captain Krun Mathur, who took command of Erika in September last year, had reported on the rust as soon as he had found it but had not been able to carry out an inspection earlier because the tank in question had been filled. Mr Squassafichi said he had no evidence of any requests from the master over corrosion in the tanks. He maintained that Rina followed normal procedures and that the report from the surveyor was available to anybody. In a statement, the classification society said:
Rina is carrying out its own investigation to attempt to find the causes of the sinking, in particular to try to prevent the occurrence of similar disasters at sea.The investigation is under way and there is no evidence that the sinking of the vessel may be linked to errors or omissions by Rina.
The Lloyd's List's investigation appears to confirm the finding of Malta Maritime Authority executive director, Lino Vassallo. He said:
To attribute the fault simply to the bad weather only would be an easy way out, but I cannot accept it. There must have been some mistake or some omission, and this led to the casualty. As far as the flag administration is concerned, Erika was all right for us. She had all the class and statutory certificates in place.
Mr Quimbert, acting for Capt. Mathur, said:
The first day the tank was empty, he went and noted this corrosion.
Subsequently, representatives of the vessel's owner, Tevere Shipping and Rina had checked the vessel, but concluded that there was "no cause for concern". Mr Quimbert said that Capt. Mathur had done everything he should but that no one knew why the Erika had broken up. There had been a "structural problem, a metallurgical problem", he said, adding:
It is not a master's work. He is not a metallurgical engineer.
13 January 2000 – Corrosion problems had been apparent on m tanker Erika since at least 1994, with details readily available to port state control authorities and potential charterers, US Coast Guard records show. In addition, there were numerous deficiencies in her fire-fighting and inert gas systems, pointing to a potential explosion risk on the tanker, which broke up off the French coast last month. Yesterday Lloyd's List reported that severe corrosion had been discovered by class just weeks before the incident. However, no immediate remedial action had been taken. The latest revelations will add to the growing concern in France that the subsequent spill of heavy crude oil would not have occurred had notice been taken of obvious and ample signals that there were problems with the vessel. According to publicly available US Coast Guard records obtained by Lloyd's List, Erika had been inspected in a variety of US ports on several occasions since 1994. Her certificate of financial responsibility, a document legally required by tankers wishing to trade in US waters, had expired in March 1999, and had not been renewed as of November 30. In an inspection in Portland in July 1994, holes were discovered in the main deck coaming, indicating that signs of corrosion were already in place more than five years ago. It was also found that there were holes in both the port side and starboard inert gas system risers, which are critical items of safety equipment. Malfunctions would tend to increase vulnerability to explosions. Fire-fighting equipment was also in poor shape. The fixed foam deck lines leaked from dresser couplings and from holes caused by wastage when tested under normal working pressure. Problems persisted for a number of years, during which period the vessel was classed by French classification society Bureau Veritas. Many of the problems had simply been patched up, rather than properly repaired. In an inspection in 1997 in New Orleans, the US Coast Guard ordered that no cargo operations requiring the use of inert gas systems should be conducted until permanent repairs had been effected. Pinhole leaks remained in the fire-main, contrary to Safety of Life at Sea convention regulations. There was yet more evidence of corrosion, with the vessel's watertight doors not sealing properly and wasting on the door coamings. Erika switched from Bureau Veritas to Registro Italiano Navale in 1998, which authorised her to continue operations despite the French society's order for a full inspection.
The dramatic story of the last 18 hours of m tanker Erika can be told following an investigation which uncovered eye-witness evidence from crew members. The first clue to the danger was when she developed a moderate list. This appears to have been linked to internal leaks in one of the cargo tanks, as well as worsening cracks and buckles on the deck and then a catastrophic failure of her hull. She eventually sank at around 0500, UTC, December 12, in rough seas in the Bay of Biscay, 40 miles off the coast of France but the drama on board the vessel actually began just before 1300, December 11. At that time, some of her Indian crew of 26 felt the vessel listing to starboard while sailing with heavy seas at her starboard bow, reported waves of between four and five metres. Rough seas over the previous 24 hours had made any deck inspection impossible, so the vessel's log book does not note the state of the deck on December 10. As the list became apparent, the master sent the first distress signal while trying to stabilise Erika by shifting ballast from one of the starboard ballast tanks. This first distress signal was received by the MRCC located at Etel. However, within a couple of hours, once Erika stabilised and it was possible to alter course to allow the crew to check the state of the deck, the master cancelled the distress call while heading towards St Nazaire, where a large oil terminal was available. The decision to cancel the distress message was taken despite the first inspection revealing that the ullage in one of the cargo tanks, believed to be No. 3, was greater than originally recorded when the vessel was loaded in Dunkirk and that there was oil in one of the ballast tanks, believed to be No. 2 starboard. However, due to the distance of the vessel from the coast at that moment, there was nothing that the master could do to reduce the risk of sinking but to head towards St Nazaire, with expected time of arrival being sometime on Sunday night due to her reduced speed. Moreover, he would have felt confident that the vessel was in a good enough condition to reach that port. On Saturday afternoon, further inspections of the deck surface revealed a number of serious, gaping cracks, normal cracks and some buckles. From this point ahead, the situation was continuously screened by the crew, with the status of the cracks reported not to be worsening throughout the afternoon and evening. This remained unchanged until just after midnight when the situation suddenly worsened, with Erika again developing a strong list. About three hours later, 0300, Dec12, both the size and the number of the cracks on the deck began to increase quite rapidly. The final distress signal was sent at around 0600 hrs and received by the Etel MRCC. The first helicopter arrived on the scene at around 0645, CET, and started recovering crew members.
14 January 2000 – The Italian company charged with monitoring the seaworthiness of m tanker Erika, which sank off the French coast, said today it was not guilty of negligence. RINA chief executive, Nicola Squassafichi, said in a statement:
We are certain we did not neglect any of our duties with regard to the Erika.
A preliminary French Transport Ministry report released today said a corroded bulkhead was probably the main cause of the December 12 sinking of the vessel. The report absolved the ship's crew but accused both RINA and the owners of failing to register the possible problems, saying that despite signs of potential problems, notably reports from the crew, those responsible for the Erika failed to react.
We note that the preliminary report identified several parties as thought to be involved – the ship-owner, the charterer and ourselves.
Squassafichi said, adding that what exactly happened and who was responsible were not yet clear. RINA said it was taking steps to prevent any recurrence, such as a detailed investigation into the Erika while it was under its surveillance, a review of procedures, and an in-depth audit of all ships owned by the same ship-owner or run by the same operator whose safety RINA was in charge of monitoring. The French report made seven recommendations aimed at oil companies, safety monitoring firms and shipping regulations in Malta, where the Erika is registered.
15 January 2000 – Anglo-Dutch oil group, Royal Dutch/Shell, decided that m tanker Erika was not fit for its own use, Liberation newspaper said today.
This tanker could not have transported Shell cargo.
The paper quoted Alain Chenu, European coordinator for maritime operations at Shell, as saying:
Erika was inspected in January 1999. Based on the report that followed, the vessel's owner was told that Shell would not use the tanker for its cargo.
A French Transport Ministry report released yesterday said that a corroded bulkhead was probably the main cause of the sinking of the vessel.
16 January 2000 – A press report from Paris, dated today, states: The structure of m tanker Erika was probably at fault in the disaster, according to a preliminary report made public Friday (January 14). The report by the Bureau of Inquiries of Sea Accidents said the tanker's owner and the company responsible for doing check-ups on the vessel also may share blame for the December 12 spill. In its report, the accident bureau indicated that a corroded barrier between a full oil tank and an empty one may have collapsed, eventually causing the vessel to crack in two. Although a sea storm was likely an aggravating factor, the vessel should have been able to withstand it, the report said.
21 January 2000 – French oil giant TotalFina said today the spill from m tanker Erika had so far cost it more than 800 million francs ($122.9 million). TotalFina chairman, Thierry Desmarest, was quoted in the French daily Le Monde as saying the company would pay 200 million francs to store and treat polluted sand, on top of almost 500 million francs already earmarked for the spill. He said:
Today we make a new commitment to take charge of the storage and treatment of waste, composed of sand, seaweed, various material, and fuel, which already weighs 100,000 tonnes.
TotalFina had previously pledged around 400 million francs to pump the remaining oil from the hold of the sunken Erika and some 90 million francs for environmental damage. Desmarest said TotalFina had also contributed, 120 million francs to the oil industry compensation fund Fipol. TotalFina's contribution to the fund represents 10 per cent of the overall 1.2 billion francs Fipol will spend on repairing damage caused by the slick and compensating the local tourism and fishing industries.
24 January 2000 – TotalFina chairman, Thierry Desmarest, has promised to lift the group's spending on the aftermath of the sinking of m tanker Erika to FFr700m ($108.5m) and indicated that it is ready to restrict its use of tankers over 20 years old. Speaking in Nantes to members of the three Atlantic coast regions which have been polluted by oil from the Erika, Mr Desmarest announced that TotalFina would add FFr200m to the FFr500m it had already committed for dealing with the aftermath of the disaster. He said that the FFr200m would go towards the cost of storing and reprocessing waste collected in the course of cleaning operations along the coast. He said:
We will take charge of collecting the waste and we will stock it in appropriate sites to reprocess it so that it does not constitute a threat to the environment.
Mr Desmarest also indicated that the group would be restricting its use of older ships in future. He was reported as saying that the group would cease using vessels over 20 years old, although this conflicted with a report in the Le Monde newspaper that the group would, in future, not use vessels over 20 years old of more than 80,000 tonnes. He called for vessels over 20 years old to undergo major inspections more frequently and gave his support to calls for tighter European control over shipping safety. He said, in particular, that he wanted to see greater transparency among classification societies, the creation of a European Organisation to oversee shipping safety and higher financial sanctions for owners and charterers. Mr Desmarest was greeted on his arrival at the headquarters of the Pays de la Loire regional council in Nantes by some 1,000 protesters. He said that TotalFina intended to assume all its responsibilities and to do all it could to restore a climate of confidence and efface the effects of the catastrophe. He sought to defend the group's role in the catastrophe, saying that the Erika seemed "correct from the exterior" and had a "competent and professional crew." Mr Desmarest revealed that 15,000 tonnes of fuel oil had escaped from the Erika rather than the 10,000 tonnes estimated so far, indicating that the vessel's tanks contained a further 15,000 tonnes and not 20,000 tonnes as thought. Subsea robot, Triton XL, sealed two of three leaks on the sunken forward section and all three leaks on the aft section last week. The marine prefecture in Brest said that another technique would need to be used to seal the remaining leak.
1 February 2000 – French oil group TotalFina yesterday flatly denied a claim from a chemist that m tanker Erika, which caused widespread coastal pollution after breaking up off the French Atlantic coast on December 12, was carrying toxic industrial waste rather than heavy fuel oil, as has always been stated. The claim came from a laboratory owner in the south of France who carried out his own analysis of a sample of material collected from a beach on the island of Groix, off the Brittany coast, close to the port of Lorient. Bernard Tailliez, whose laboratory, Analytika, specialises in the analysis of complex chemical mixtures, claimed that his findings demonstrated that Erika was carrying toxic, carcinogenic residues produced by a double distillation of crude oil rather than fuel oil. He said that he had asked a friend living on the island of Groix to collect a sample of the pollution caused by the break-up of the Erika after having been "intrigued" as to why a vessel of the size of Erika was carrying "number two fuel oil". He said:
Number two fuel oil is a low quality product. For it to be profitable, it must be transported in large quantities. The Erika is a small capacity tanker. I had doubts about this cargo. I wanted to put my mind at rest.
He said that his analysis had shown that the product in the tanks of Erika contained virtually no combustible products and was fit only for burning as a waste. It had been shameful to allow volunteers to collect such a substance, he said. TotalFina insisted, however, that Erika had been carrying number two fuel oil, destined for use in a power station in Italy. Mr Tailliez had been working on a fuel sample in a deteriorated condition which it was not clear had come from the Erika, a spokesman said. The group added that the nature of the product carried by the Erika had already been confirmed by analyses carried out by the French Petroleum Institute, IFP, the food safety agency, AFSSA, and the marine pollution research and experimentation centre, CEDR.E. According to one French report yesterday, however, these analyses may have been carried out on samples supplied by TotalFina which came from the tanks at Dunkirk where the Erika was supposed to have loaded, rather than from the vessel herself.
2 February 2000 – Italian transport minister, Pier Luigi Bersani, has ordered a formal inquiry into the role of Italian classification society Registro ltaliano Navale in the m tanker Erika disaster. The ministry's probe is intended to check Rina's procedures in issuing safety and seaworthiness certificates released to the Erika. Mr Bersani's move, which comes two months after the tanker sank off western France, is a consequence of Rina being officially the technical arm of the ministry. The ministry said that it was ready to support any similar action from the European Union. Rina said in response to the move:
We welcome this inquiry from the ministry, we'll supply all the requested information.
Rina has not yet made public any findings of its internal inquiry into the Erika accident.
6 February 2000 – About 20,000 demonstrators gathered in Nantes today to show their anger over a two-month-old oil spill that has contaminated the country's Atlantic coastline. Environmental activists and ocean specialists were among those protesting against the ecological damage caused after m tanker Erika split in two, in rough waters on December 12. The chairman of TotalFina, which chartered the tanker, was a frequent target of the crowd's shouts and slogans. Today's protests came on the same day the French food safety agency, AFSSA, said Atlantic seafood on the market was "without risk", lifting controls put in place after the spill. More than 900 shellfish farms have been closed along the coast since the accident.
8 February 2000 – Karun Mathur, master of m tanker Erika, has spoken out for the first time since the loss of the tanker about the difficulties of modern-day seafarers aboard ships such as the Erika, claiming that their profession is "dominated by money". Captain Mathur, who left France for his home in India yesterday, after having been freed from the judicial control under which he was placed after the break-up of the Erika, told a French newspaper about life aboard the Erika and about his disillusionment with the seafaring profession. He said:
No-one dares say certain things but the profession has changed a lot. Everything moves too quickly. Everything is dominated by money.
He made no direct criticism of the owners of the Erika, but said that certain owners were obsessed with cost-cutting to the point where crews were reduced to "below the threshold of safety and endurance". On the Erika, his responsibilities had extended to the management of food supplies and composition of the crew's menu. Previously, this work had been carried out by a staff of five or six people, he said. The crew of the Erika itself had comprised 26 members, compared with 60 aboard tankers in the past. He said:
Only Indian national flag ships still keep 50 or so members but it is because they are less well paid than in the private companies.
Captain Mathur spoke about the weight of paperwork which had to be completed amid other duties during ever-shortening periods at sea between ports. He revealed that the Erika had been the first vessel under his command not to have a radio officer and that this absence had weighed on him during the hours preceding the vessel's break-up. The vessel's communications were managed electronically but Captain Mathur said:
During the storm, I felt how much I was short of a man.
He said that he wanted to continue in the profession but that he was not sure that another shipping company would accept him after the loss of the Erika. If he did not find another master's post, he said he would like to "contribute to improving ship safety". Up to 30,000 people took part in a demonstration in the city of Nantes over the weekend to protest at the pollution caused by the break-up of the Erika. Participants in the demonstration, which was supported by some 50 organizations, including seafarers' organizations, trade unions and political parties, were particularly virulent in their criticism of the charterer of the Erika, the TotalFina oil group. They called on the government to take tough measures to improve safety conditions in the shipping industry and demanded a meeting with government ministers due to take part in exceptional inter-ministerial environmental and shipping meetings in Nantes at the end of this month. Rina, the Italian society that classed the Erika, said last night it fully supported proposals put forward by the American Bureau of Shipping to get tough on older vessels.
8 February 2000 – A press release from Coflexip Stena Offshore Group, dated Boulogne-Billan-court, February 7, states: CSO International, a French entity of the Coflexip Stena Offshore Group, head-quartered in Paris, announced today that Totalfina has awarded it with a detailed survey task on the two portions of the mtanker Erika wreck. The choice of the CSO Group and its means of intervention is part of ongoing operations undertaken during January 2000 by the remotely-operated vehicle Triton XL 18, on board m underwater maintenance vessel Abeille Supporter, for the Maritime Prefecture of Brest. The Triton had patched leaks on the two portions of the wreck. For this new investigative mission, Totalfina chose d-e diving maintenance support vessel CSO Marianos. CSO Marianos, which is on site since February 5, will operate two Triton XL work class, remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs), the XL 18 and the XL 34, and a Tiger survey class ROV.
9 February 2000 – Italian ship safety inspector RINA, which passed m tanker Erika, said today the vessel broke up as a result of cracking of its hull. An internal inquiry into the loss of the 25-year-old Maltese-flag vessel pointed to a small structural failure or leak low in the hull structure, the classification society said in a statement. RINA said:
This was followed by cracking which eventually led to the collapse of the bull.
Classification societies, which oversee ship safety standards, have come under fire since the accident. RINA said it believed it had acted correctly. But it said it had not been able to gather information on eight sister ships to the Erika which had suffered difficulties, which may have pointed to weaknesses in the ship. RINA chief executive, Nicola Squassafichi, said:
All of these vessels have suffered structural problems. Three of them, other than the Erika, were serious. No information on this history of problems was available.
It recommended that the ship inspectors swap all their information as vessels changed classification. RINA said it has asked the Maltese and Italian administrations to cancel the International Safety Management (ISM) certification, necessary to operate vessels in European waters, held by the Erika's operator Panship Management. It also said it has appointed an independent marine engineering group to conduct further investigations into the Erika's loss. These included possible poor loading, mishandling, bad repairs, or that the Erika hit a floating object. The vessel and its sisters' records would also be examined, as well as oil company and port inspectorate tanker vetting systems.
14 February 2000 – An Italian lawyers' strike is set to delay the start of interrogation by French magistrates of the top management of Italian classification society RINA. The probe is part of the French criminal investigation into the sinking of m tanker Erika in December and could be delayed a week. RINA's interrogation had been scheduled to be held today in Genoa, with similar interviews with the Erika's ship-manager, Panship, due to follow tomorrow in Ravenna.
21 February 2000 – French transport minister, Jean Claude Gayssot, has confirmed that the oil remaining in the tanks of m tanker Erika will be pumped out in a traditional manner. An international tender will be launched in the next few days, with work expected to start by the end of April and to be supervised by TotalFina. The operation is likely to cost around FFr400 million ($62 million).
25 February 2000 – France is still trying to clean up the oil from m tanker Erika that split in two off the coast of Brittany in December. For several weeks, hundreds of volunteers have been scraping away at the rocks and sand to get rid of what they're calling "the black tide". Every time the sea rises and falls it seems to bring a new coating of heavy oil on to the Brittany coast. French soldiers have been called in to help, The clean-up efforts are expected to continue for several weeks more, likely ruining the tourist season. So far, up to 15,000 tonnes of heavy oil have washed ashore. The spill has killed more than 50,000 wild birds and new victims are still turning up.
29 December 1999 – Istanbul, Turkey
M tanker Volgoneft 248 (3,463gt, built 1975) in broke two and partially sank near Istanbul overnight after running aground in heavy winds, a maritime official said today. Television pictures showed the front half of the vessel sinking into the sea, while the stern remained afloat, in the Marmara Sea off Istanbul. Crew members stood at the railings awaiting rescue. An Istanbul maritime official said:
As far as we know, the lives of the 17-person crew have been saved. The vessel sank because of stormy weather conditions. There is no disruption to Bosporus traffic.
He said there had been some spillage of fuel, but: Environmental protection officials are at the site now trying to take precautions against any spillage.
While m tanker Volgoneft 248, in ballast, was waiting at the Menekse, Istanbul, anchorage area December 28, vessel grounded due to severe storms. Reportedly, the vessel broke in two in way of hold No I and the forepart sank. Assistance requested from local salvors at 0400, December 29. Mtug A lemdar 11 and tug Kurtaran are presently near the vessel. Understand fuel oil leaked from the vessel onto a nearby road, which has been closed to vehicle traffic.
M tanker Volgoneft 248 broke in two and her bow sank today near the mouth of the Bosporus, spilling oil onto Istanbul's residential coastline. Turkish coast guards rescued 12 of the 17-man crew of the vessel, which ran aground in strong winds overnight, after securing the stern of the vessel with cables to the shore. Five other crew members chose to stay on board. A maritime official said the vessel, carrying 4,300 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, had passed through the Bosporus strait when she went down. There was no disruption to traffic, he added. Russia's Ministry for Emergencies said the vessel was of a type which normally plies the Volga-Don canal to pick up loads from the Volga's refineries. Thick layers of sludge washed into a nearby residential district, coating roads and sidewalk cafes. Bulldozers scraped up the spillage while shopkeepers donned rubber boots and grabbed shovels to pitch in. A maritime official, said:
Environmental protection officials are at the site now, trying to take precautions against any spillage.
Turkish authorities said they could not say how much oil spilled into the sea. However, Russian Transportation Ministry officials in Moscow said 900 tonnes of fuel oil had spilled out. Twelve of the 18 crew members were rescued from the stranded vessel. The six others, including the master, stayed on board to help evaluate the accident with transport officials. Authorities said they were not in danger, since the tanker was stuck in the sand near the shore, and stable. The tanker was carrying about 4,800 tonnes of fuel oil, according to Turkish authorities. Orhan Karaahmetogiu, head of Istanbul's sea security department, said one of four tanks carrying the oil was damaged, but that fuel was no longer spilling out of the tank. Karaahmetogiu, said: "It is not a big accident". But strong winds were preventing authorities from placing devices in the sea to prevent oil from spreading. A water engineer of Istanbul Technical University, Bayram Ozturk, said the oil had spread to an area roughly 10kms around the vessel:
If the southwestern winds continue, it could spread 30 to 40 miles.
Strong southwestern winds were expected to continue throughout the day. Environment Minister, Fevzi Aytekin, ordered a research vessel to the site to determine the extent of the spill. But an oil clean-up vessel could not reach the site because of rough seas, a ministry statement said. Volgoneft 248 split in two and sank into the sand early today as severe southwestern winds, reaching 112kms per hour, hit the region. The wind pushed the tanker toward land. She broke apart when she hit ground, damaging one of four fuel tanks. The front half of the tanker was no longer visible, while the back stood upright. The storm closed several roads along Istanbul's coast and knocked down trees and power lines, but the strait remained open to tanker traffic.
Five other crew members who initially chose to stay on board were taken ashore later, Anatolian news agency said. The maritime official, who declined to be named, said:
Environmental protection officials are at the site now trying to take precautions against any spillage.
The agency said a strong wind halted work to prevent more oil from spilling into the sea. Istanbul municipality decided to impose a $36,380 fine on the tanker's owner for pollution. The stormy weather which wreaked havoc across western Europe last weekend has pushed into northwest Turkey, bringing heavy rains and gales. On the opposite, Asian, shore of the Marmara Sea, 15 small boats at anchor in a marina sank in the storm, Anatolian news agency reported.
30 December 1999 – A stretch of Istanbul's coastline echoed today with the screeches of seagulls mired in a fuel oil slick from m tanker Volgoneft 248 that ran aground in rough seas and broke apart. Volunteers in rubber boots and gloves tried to clean the grounded birds as oil washed ashore, but their efforts were largely fruitless as the gulls' feathers and bodies were covered with a greasy thick, black coat. Officials estimate that 850 tons of oil leaked from the tanker. The bow of Volgoneft 248 sank but her stern remained afloat and was secured by cable to the shore. The tanker carried 4,300 tons of oil, most of which is believed to be still on board. Officials said the spill came from one tank, while two others were intact. Coastguard teams put large floating barriers around the remaining part of the vessel. The vessel's stern is 200 yards from the coast road. Hucum Tulgar, head of the coastal safety administration told a news conference:
This is a natural disaster. It will take a long time to clean up.
Insurance company representatives, the ship-owners and Turkish officials were on board the vessel's stern, negotiating the fate of the oil remaining on board.
5 January 2000 – Workers today began cleaning up tonnes of fuel oil swept on to the shoreline of Istanbul after the wreckage last week of m tanker Volgoneft 248. The Anatolian news agency said a clean-up firm had reached a deal with the insurers of the vessel, which ran aground in heavy winds at the mouth of the Bosporus strait. The vessel split in two, releasing around 850 tonnes of fuel oil. The bow section sank, while the stern remained afloat and is tethered to shore by cable. The vessel's insurers earlier this week collected bids from specialists to remove the stern section, which requires repairs before remaining fuel can be pumped off and the vessel moved.
6 January 2000 – Salvage work on the pollution caused by the sinking of m tanker Volgoneft 248 began in earnest this week in the Bosporus. A total of 1,300 tonnes of heavy fuel oil is estimated to have leaked from the wreck, according to the International Tanker Owners' Pollution Federation. The federation has had an expert on the scene since the day after the incident. Skuld protection and indemnity club has reached agreement with a local contractor for removal of the wreck and of the remaining oil, believed to be 3,000 tonnes. Work got under way ahead of the formal signing of the agreement. A spokesman for Oslo-based Skuld said the work is described as complicated and requires considerable diligence on the part of the contractor, who is being assisted by a Dutch salvage consultant, brought in by Skuld. The vessel's owner, Transpetro Volga of Moscow, and Skuld are talking to the Turkish authorities and local environmental organizations about the impact of the spill. This will include the effect of the disaster on bird life. Ingostrakh, the hull insurer of the vessel, is believed to have settled a claim for the vessel as a constructive total loss. It is understood that an official inquiry has yet to be initiated.
6 January 2000 – Salvage teams were preparing yesterday to siphon off an estimated 1,100 tonnes of fuel oil from the wreckage of m tanker Volgoneft 248. the Anatolian news agency quoted Captain Saffet Ayabakan, in charge of the operation, as saying:
We have to warm the fuel up a bit more for it to liquefy. When it is hot enough, we will begin transferring it to other tankers.
Ayabakan said he estimated it would take three to four days to siphon off the 1,100 tonnes of fuel oil still on board to small tankers, which would in turn transfer the oil to larger vessels further out to sea.
12 January 2000 – Reported m tanker Volgoneft 248 was carrying 4,363 tonnes of cargo at the time of grounding. Removal of the remaining part of the cargo, around 1,020 tonnes, was completed on January 10. Once this operation was completed, part of the vessel was refloated and towed off Florya. Currently, no salvage operations have been carried out for the sunken section of the vessel.
16 February 2000 – Dozens of fishing boats took to the sea around Istanbul as environmentalists led protests over alleged continued contamination. Volgoneft 248, which split in two in strong winds on December 29, spilled an estimated 235,000 gallons of oil into the key waterway. Even so, over 790,000 gallons remain on board. One third is contained in the stern section of the sunken vessel, which stands upright in the sand. The rest is in the bow section. Salvage teams are expected to take a further two months to handle the problem. While officials deny that spillage is continuing, the Nature Warriors environmental pressure group argues that pollution is still going on.
28 December 1999 – Halifax, NS
A provincial court judge in Halifax, NS, has imposed a record US$ 27,265 fine against the operator of Bahamas m oil/chemical/molasses/caustic soda tanker Nordholt (22,838gt, built 1988). A Transport Canada pollution surveillance pilot saw the vessel trailing an 11-km oil slick on March 29, 1998. It was the largest fine ever for a vessel caught by aerial surveillance in Canada. Contending that fines must be large enough to deter pollution, the prosecution had sought a $68,162 penalty after the vessel's operator lost a six-day trial. (Note – Nordholt left Boston, MA, on March 25, 1998, for Come by Chance.)
30 December 1999 – Leaf River, Mississippi, USA
A 24-hour response to an oil field spill extended through the Christmas holiday for nearly 200 private responders and government monitors in southeastern Mississippi. An estimated 71,400 gallons (242 tonnes) of crude oil fouled about 26km of the Leaf River, downstream of Summerland, Mississippi, beginning on December 20. Sudden cold, a precipitous drop in the river level and lack of roads hampered the response, says Gene Maestas, a member of the US Coast Guard and a spokesman for the spill unified command. The spill was first reported about 1000, local time, December 20, says Pat Hodgkins, a spokesperson for Genesis Crude LP, the responsible party. He says the source was a rupture in a 20cm feeder line between wells in a Genesis field about 80km south-east of Jackson, Mississippi. Maestas reports that pollution response crews had recovered 42,000 gallons (143 tonnes) of oil by December 27 using vacuum trucks, skimmers, and absorbents at six collection points; wildlife officers collected eight dead, oiled wood ducks and a dead, oiled green winged teal. The drop in the river left a band of oil along the banks, which crews have been washing with freshwater. During the response, night-time temperatures fell below freezing, so Genesis built a 2,743-metre, 7.6cm pipeline for warm-water washing. Crews built three underflow dams on the river, and they were flushing the oil into those through December 27. Teams also had to build new roads to collection points because only three highways cross the contaminated stretch of the Leaf River. The unified command asked hunters and others to avoid the river during the response. Both Genesis and a neighbour, Colonial Pipeline, responded to the initial report of spillage. Genesis assumed responsibility once investigators located the source, Hodgkins says. Companies responding to the spill included Garner Environmental, Miller Environmental, L&L Environmental Services, US Environmental, Taylor Construction, Oil Mop, DCM Resources, ES&H Environmental, Response Management Associates, and Wildlife Rehab and Education.
30 December 1999 – Havana Harbour, Cuba
At least 9,800 gallons (33 tonnes) of bunker C fuel spilled from the Nico Lopez Refinery into the harbour at Havana, Cuba, on December 20, reports Jorge Breto, operations manager of SAMARP, Havana's oil spill response organisation. Refinery experts initially reported a spill of 5,284 gallons (18 tonnes), blaming it on an exceptionally low tide that allowed fuel to escape under a stranded section of oil boom. However, by December 24, SAMARP had recovered 14,000 gallons (48 tonnes) of pollutant that appeared to be 30 per cent water, Breto said.
31 December 1999 – Cabinda Province, Angola
An offshore oil spill was approaching the Angolan coast, posing a threat to the fishing industry, an independent Catholic radio station reported today. Radio Ecclesia said the spill, which occurred on December 27 in the Atlantic Ocean Oil fields, off Cabinda province, was advancing towards the coast. Chevron Corp. spokesman, Jomathan Lifa, said the spill estimated at 40 barrels was from an offshore-based water treatment plant used for oil production at the coastal town of Malembo in the province. Lifa said:
I don't know what the relationship is between the oil and the treatment plant. We shut down the system immediately to ensure it does not happen again.
He said about 34 barrels had so far been recovered from the sea.
3 January 2000 – Phillip Island, Australia
Wildlife officers today were trying to save more than 100 fairy penguins covered in thick black oil from a slick that washed up on an island off Australia's south-east corner. A large seal colony was also at risk from the oil slick that partially washed up on Phillip Island, about 60 miles south of Melbourne, during the weekend. The Victorian state government said the oil appears to have been dumped by an unidentified vessel some days ago.
12 January 2000 – Australian maritime authorities have cleared foreign vessels of any involvement in an oil slick which caused havoc in a penguin colony in the country's south-east. A national and international search by Victoria state's Marine Board and the Maritime Safety Authority for the polluting vessel, which left behind a slick after being moored or passing through South Melbourne and Western Port, has narrowed down the suspects to six Australian vessels, and scientific methods are being used to "fingerprint" the offending vessel. The board said the oil apparently came from the pumping of the vessel's bilges rather than a spillage. Some 200 fairy penguins were affected by the pollution, and almost a dozen perished. The board said the culprit vessel's owner could face fines of up to A$l million.
15 January 2000 – The master of m tanker Sylvan Arrow, 22,587gt, built 1983, has been charged in an investigation into an oil spill off the southern Victorian coastline last month, federal Attorney-General Daryl Williams said today. A joint operation by the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority was instigated following information from a New Zealand Navy frigate that allegedly witnessed the spill off Wilson's Promontory on December 18. Sylvan Arrow was now anchored in Port Phillip Bay. Mr Williams said federal agents, with assistance from Victorian police and accompanied by AMSA officers, boarded the vessel on Thursday, January 13, and seized documents and took samples from various parts of the vessel. The ship's master appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates Court yesterday. He was charged with two counts under section 9 of the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act dealing with the discharge of oil or an oily mixture from a ship into the sea. He was granted bail on his own undertaking to reappear in court on March 27. The spill occurred over a distance of about 16.8 nautical miles, about three nautical miles south of the promontory. Mr Williams said ongoing investigations were focusing on the circumstances surrounding the spill, including the amount of oil involved. (Note – Sylvan Arrow sailed Melbourne December 17, arrived New Caledonia December 23 and sailed New Caledonia December 26.)
18 January 2000 – An Australian Court has released on bail the master of a foreign tanker charged over an oil spill. Capt. Javed Ahmed Bhombal, 35, is charged over a 17 nautical mile spill south of the lip of Melbourne's Wilson's Promontory in the week before Christmas. Bhombal is charged under the 1983 Protection of the Sea Act that he committed two illegal acts while being in charge of the Marshall Islands- registered m tanker Sylvan Arrow. The vessel has been allowed to leave Victoria state waters following an investigation, but Bhombal must reappear at Melbourne Magistrates Court on March 27 to answer the charges.
10 January 2000 – Ohio River, USA
Four huge storage tanks will be pumped dry after they were damaged when a fifth tank ruptured Saturday afternoon (January 8), spilling tens of thousands of gallons of nontoxic fertiliser into the Ohio River. Half a million gallons of mineral oil was removed from one of the damaged tanks last night and all are under close watch for leaks. The rupture of a tank holding 365,000 gallons of fertiliser caused more than $1 million in damages, said officials at the Southside River and Rail Company in Riverside. No one was injured and the spill is not a health hazard to the surrounding community, fire officials said. Investigators have not yet determined why the tank, only eight years old, gave way. Officials from the Cincinnati Fire Division and the US Environmental Protection Agency will be conducting investigations. Officials at Southside said the first priority is to empty four surrounding tanks, one of which stores a combustible petroleum naptha product. Another tank is filled with the nitrogen solution fertiliser and one contains a small amount of soyabean oil. The EPA will supervise the unloading of all of the tanks. A four-year-old tank about 30ft to the west, that contains 500,000 gallons of mineral oil was badly damaged but is not leaking. Company officials expected to have its contents emptied onto a barge early today. When the tank ruptured about 1316 Saturday, the cascade of tens of thousands gallons of liquid nitrogen destroyed most of the system of pipes, valves and pumps used to transfer material between the five tanks and barges. It also pushed two tractor trucks into the river and tore loose a barge moored nearby. The barge floated down river until secured by the US Coast Guard. The rushing liquid also destroyed a concrete dyke intended to help contain leaks. The company brought in 25 truck-loads of sand and gravel to rebuild the wall overnight Saturday. The EPA estimated that 200,000 gallons of the fertiliser, a solution of 32 per cent nitrogen in water, flowed into the river. About 110,000 gallons was retained by the dyke.
11 January 2000 – The final tank damaged in a weekend incident at Southside River and Rail Company in Riverside will be emptied this afternoon, ending any risk to the public, Cincinnati fire officials said today. Last night a second tank filled with liquid fertiliser was emptied into a barge. The tank to be emptied today contained a combustible solvent, said Assistant Fire Chief, Mike Kroeger.
11 January 2000 – Western Australia
Western Australia's Minerals and Energy Department said today it was investigating a diesel spill at the East Spar offshore oil field reported by Apache Energy, a unit of Apache Corp. Department petroleum division director, Bill Tinapple, said about 1,300 litres of diesel was spilt on Sunday (January 9) as it was transferred from a supply vessel to the East Spar buoy, due to a fault at the pump. He said:
Due to the high evaporation rate and the spill being far off shore, the diesel is likely to be fully dispersed soon.
An Apache spokeswoman said the spill had no impact on production from the East Spar field.
12 January 2000 – Portland Harbour, USA
The owner of m tanker Julie N., which spilled 180,000 gallons of oil into Portland Harbour, has agreed to pay $1 million to settle federal and state claims from the accident. The spill in 1996 was the largest ever in Portland Harbour. It led to damage and clean-up costs topping $50 million, but state officials said the $1 million would buy enough long-term improvements to make up for the damage to natural resources. The proposed settlement, filed in US District Court on Friday (January 7), is subject to a 45-day public comment period and review by a federal judge. The $1 million represents the final public claim for the accident. The vessel's owner, Amity Product Carriers Inc., paid $487,589 for studies of the impact of the spill on Portland Harbor's environment and wildlife. That research was used to back up the public damage claim. The settlement calls for $350,000 for equipment to cut back on oil and grease which washes into the harbour through storm drains; $475,000 to restore a section of the Scarborough Marsh west of Route 1 – the habitat is similar to the 25 acres in Portland Harbour which were damaged by the spill, and is home to the same waterfowl, wading birds and shore birds; $125,000 to build a one-mile section of trail along the north bank of the upper Fore River, where marsh grasses were blackened by the oil – the trail would compensate the public for use of the harbour which was lost because of the spill. The remaining $50,000 would go to federal and state agencies for oversight of the projects. Both sides were satisfied with the outcome of negotiations. The company will be compensated for much of the clean-up and damage costs from a fund set up by the oil industry.
12 January 2000 – Abonema Wharf, Nigeria
The governor of River State in Nigeria's delta region has ordered an inquiry into a fire which broke out on an oil-slick on Sunday (January 9), killing seven people and burning about 25 vessels and other property. The trouble began on Friday, when the Marine Police intercepted three barges carrying stolen oil and towed them to their station at Abonema Wharf. One of the vessels was leaking, and the oil spread during Saturday. When a local resident lit a match on Sunday, the area was engulfed by fire.
13 January 2000 – Yokohama, Japan
M oil/chemical tanker Taishin Maru, 749gt, (built 1994) Sendai for Yokohama, with 2,000 kl of benzene, was in collision with fvYamato Maru, 4.7gt, five miles from Yawata lighthouse, Katsuura, Chiba Prefecture, at 0639, local time, January 12. Yamato Maru was broken in half and her stern, which sank, was subsequently towed to Katsuura.
14 January 2000 – Lake Mitchigan, US
On Wednesday (January 12) the working tug Rausch sank in 13 feet of water in Burnham Harbour on Lake Michigan. The US Coast Guard Marine Safety Office, Chicago is investigating the incident and the cause of the sinking is unknown. The vessel has two 200 gallon diesel fuel tanks which are reported to be half full. Investigators report that 30 to 40 gallons of fuel discharged into the water and that approximately ten gallons had been recovered. Yesterday the tug was surrounded by double oil containment booms and awaiting divers to plug the fuel tank vents.
17 January 2000 – London, UK
Milford Haven Port Authority will go the Court of Appeal on March 16 to seek a reduction in the £4 million fine imposed on it in the wake of the oil spill from m tanker Sea Empress at Milford Haven. The authority was fined in a prosecution brought by the Environment Agency under the 1991 Water Resources Act. According to a spokeswoman for the authority, although it was agreed last year that Milford Haven could pay the fine in two tranches beginning on January 31, payment of the first tranche would be delayed pending the appeal. In December last year, shipping minister, Keith Hill, announced an independent review of the law governing the way in which shipping companies, vessels' masters and salvors can be prosecuted for pollution. Mr Hill told MPs at the time that:
The results of the review will also, if possible, take account of the outcome of the appeal against sentencing of the Milford Haven Port Authority following its prosecution for the Sea Empress casualty.
Milford Haven is hoping that the findings of the review will be available before the appeal is heard. The review will focus on a recommendation in Lord Donaldson's report last year that the government re-examine regulation 11 of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution for Ships, to see whether exceptions providing a defence for owners and masters are available to other parties who may be involved in a decision to discharge pollutants in order to minimise further environmental damage. In October last year, Lord Donaldson made a strong attack on the Environment Agency, describing it as "out of control" and guilty of "disgraceful" conduct over the prosecution of Milford Haven Port Authority following the Sea Empress spill. Milford Haven is in the process of completing payments of over £800,000 to cover the bulk of the Environment Agency's costs in bringing the court action. The authority is also facing a major claim from the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund over the Sea Empress. The Sea Empress spilled over 70,000 tonnes of oil when she grounded while trying to enter Milford Haven, February 15, 1996.
18 January 2000 – Rio de Janerio Area, Brazil
An underwater pipeline ruptured off the Brazilian coast today, spewing about 500 tonnes of oil which began washing up on beaches near the city of Rio de Janeiro, the state oil company Petrobras said. Petrobras president, Henri Philippe Reichstul, called the rupture a "worrying accident," which he estimated caused an moderate oil slick of between three and five km. Reichstul said:
We don't know the exact quantity, but we think it's around 500 tonnes. It's a worrying accident. Some of the beaches are covered with oil, which we saw when we flew over the area.
Petrobras detected the spill early this morning, when a routine check every two hours showed a gap between the amount of oil being pumped offshore from Guanabara Bay and the amount received from one of 14 pipelines. Reichstul said:
This morning when we were checking, we noticed a difference and then we stopped pumping. At the exit of the pipe into the bay about 20 meters into the water, we discovered a leak.
He added that production was continuing normally since: The only thing stopped was the pumping on the one line.
The Petrobras chief said the company was rallying local emergency services and a team of 200 workers would intensify beach-cleaning efforts tomorrow. The area damaged by the spill was localised to three small beaches on Guanabara Bay, located in a municipality adjoining Rio de Janeiro city. Reichstul estimated the clean-up would last for about 30 days. He said:
The immediate problem is to look after the people affected in the beach area, and obviously it will affect the local fishing industry.
He also said Petrobras had not yet identified the cause of the accident, but added the results of a preliminary investigation would be released by Friday (January 21).
20 January 2000 – Rio's state government has slammed the oil company responsible for a massive spill, resulting in the city's worst environmental disaster in 25 years. About 500 of tonnes leaked from underwater pipes at the Petrobras refinery in the picturesque Guanabara Bay early on Tuesday (January 18) causing a slick of 40sq.km. Environment secretary, Andre Correa, described the leak "extremely serious, regrettable and irreversible" as oil began to wash up on beaches near Rio. Mr Correa said:
We are seeking the maximum punishment for this. It was the second largest accident in terms of environmental impact.
Mr Correa said Petrobras would be asked to take part in the clean-up. He said the maximum penalty for polluting the environment was a "ridiculously low" sum of $23,000. The oil has washed up on two small beaches, a mangrove swamp and part of the popular resort of Paquetra island. Mr Correa said of most concern now was the strength and direction of the prevailing wind, which has already pushed the slick closer to beaches. Floating barriers are being used to concentrate the slick, after which sucking devices will be used to reduce the volume gradually, for dumping back at Reduc's storage tanks.
21 January 2000 – Brazil's state oil giant Petrobras may have to fork out millions of dollars as it faces mounting pressure to compensate victims of what could be the city's worst ecological disaster in 25 years, a massive oil leak in Rio's scenic bay. Brazil's oil and natural gas Goliath expected demands for financial compensation from the Environment Ministry and the state government of Rio de Janeiro, along with claims filed by local fishermen and traders who make their living from Rio's Guanabara Bay. The Rio state government said the leak could actually involve between 800 tonnes and 1,000 tonnes of oil. The state government is expected to join forces with the Environment Ministry to demand the maximum penalties from Petrobras. The amount of the fine has yet to be determined and will depend on a more detailed examination of the damage caused by the slick, which has spread over 15 square miles and reached two small beaches at the back of the bay, a protected mangrove swamp and part of the coastline of two small islands. Brazilian law allows for a maximum fine of 50 million reais ($27.9 million) for the category of "environmental crime." A spokesman for the government's environmental agency, IBAMA in Brasilia, said:
The value of the fine will depend on an assessment of the damage caused. The oil has reached the water, now it has also reached birds and vegetation. There will certainly be a fine. It's an environmental crime and it will be punished as such.
Local media reported that hundreds of local fishermen, whose livelihoods have been immediately affected by the spill, have banded together to pursue a private claim against Petrobras worth about 13 million reais ($7.3 million). Television footage shows blackened areas of beach, with dozens of crabs and sea gulls immobilised by the sticky oil. According to the state government's environment office, which has called on volunteers to help rescue animals hit by the oil, some 700 people are working to clean up the area using launches equipped with suction pumps. Around 90 tonnes of oil had already been removed, it said. "The priority at this moment is to get rid of the oil and save animals and plants", said Rio state governor, Anthony Garotinho, in a statement, adding that he had requested help from foreign specialists. Of most concern to ecologists is the mangrove swamp, which has not fully recovered from a 1997 spill when the same refinery leaked 600 tonnes of oil into the bay. While this week's oil has already reached part of the swamp, so far the prevailing wind has kept the worst of the slick away. State environment secretary Andre Correa, said:
The slick isn't heading that way but the possibility exists.The area … represents the bay's greatest reserve of mangrove and it would be regrettable if it was reached by the pollution.
23 January 2000 – Rio de Janeiro's beaches went on alert today for an advancing oil spill which already ripped through tourist spots and fishing villages in the city's worst ecological disaster in 25 years. The spill is measured at a massive 343,200 gallons, more than double estimates first provided by state oil giant, Petrobras, when its pipeline ruptured off Rio's scenic bay last week. Local authorities say part of the oil slick had already reached the island of Ilha do Governador, the site of the city's Tom Jobim International Airport, about 12 miles from the heart of Rio's southern beach district. However, they added the current direction of winds could prevent the 25-square-mile slick from striking at the city's beaches of Flamengo, Botafogo, Copacabana and Ipanema. Axel Grael, the president of Rio's state environmental agency, said:
Winds have been our greatest ally so far. If they continue in the same direction, we won't have a problem.
More than 1,300 workers from both Petrobras and state emergency crews worked today to rescue marine life and stem ecological damage to tropical beaches and nearby islands.
24 January 2000 – Petrobras, the government-owned oil company, will lay down additional floating barriers to prevent the massive oil spill polluting Rio's Guanabara Bay from spreading to world famous beaches like Copacabana and Ipanema, the company's president said today. Petrobras' president, Henri Phillipe Reichstul, said workers will, tomorrow, begin installing an additional 66,000 feet of barriers to be formed by buoys ordered from the USA and England. Barriers totalling 10,000 feet already are in place. Reichstul said:
We don't believe the oil will leave the bay. But for the population's peace of mind, we decided to build additional barriers.
The oil slick has spread through the Guapimirim and lequia mangrove swamps, which are protected areas and important spawning grounds for fish, birds and crustaceans. Biologists with the Rio de Janeiro state Environmental Affairs Department said it would take decades for nature to undo the damage. Winds and tides carried the oil toward the mouth of the bay, and some feared for the fate of the famous beaches. Reichstul said that 109,000 gallons of oil has already been removed from the bay and the stain should be cleared in the next three or four days. The oil has fouled several beaches and islands within the bay and will probably close the area to fishing for at least 30 days, according to a Rio de Janeiro newspaper. The type of oil spilled is unclear – local news reports refer to fuel oil. Petrobras president, Henri Philippe Reichstul, said the spill came from one of 14 underwater pipelines running from offshore to the Duque de Caxias Refinery. Petrobras detected the leak in a once- every-two-hour comparison between inventories at either end of the line. Petrobras mobilised 200 workers to clean oiled beaches in a municipality adjoining Rio de Janeiro City. Crews placed 3,000 metres of containment boom and three skimmers attacked the slick on January 19. Rio de Janeiro state Environmental Secretary, Andres Correia, promptly fined Petrobras US$52,514 for pollution, the maximum allowed under Brazilian law.
26 January 2000 – President Fernando Henrique Cardoso ordered the federal oil company, Petrobras, to pay the maximum fine possible for a massive oil spill in Rio's Guanabara Bay, the Environment Ministry said today. Minister Jose Sarney Filho said Petrobras would likely be charged with four counts of breaking Brazil's tough environmental law. The maximum fine is $28 million. Rio de Janeiro state prosecutors reportedly will seek a temporary closing of the refinery, which is operating without a licence from the state environmental office.
28 January 2000 – A partial, if temporary, shutdown is likely at the Duque de Caxias (Reduc) refinery, as the National Petroleum Agency (ANP) recently closed a pipeline feeding the plant. Last week 800 tonnes of crude leaked from an underwater pumping line and spread over 40sq.km of Rio's Guanabara Bay.
Environmental experts who have visited Rio de Janeiro after a pipeline burst and spilled 8,000 barrels of oil into the city's ecologically-delicate bay, say recovery will take at least ten years. Countless marine birds, fish, crabs and mussels suffocated in the thick fuel oil last week as the slick spread across Guanabara Bay into a marshland reserve. Even more alarming, the oil will allow pollutants like the mercury that nearby industries have dumped into the waters, to enter the food chain, the experts said. According to Brazil's giant state oil company, Petrobras, the ground shifted under a high-pressure pipeline in the bay, tearing it apart at the seams and releasing more than one million litres of oil from its Reduc refinery. The Brazilian government's environmental regulatory agency, IBAMA, has issued a preliminary report that predicts at least a ten-year recuperation period for the bay, which abuts a sensitive, swampy mangrove reserve where shellfish were spawning when the pipeline gave way. Most of the larval-stage marine life was killed off in just a few hours, but the birds, fish and even the fishermen who depend on them for food and income will suffer for years to come, the report said. Environmentalists say the disaster could have been prevented and blame Petrobras for sloppy management that kept an unlicensed refinery running, even after a similar but much smaller spill in 1997. Petrobras has deployed more than 2,000 workers and volunteers to clean up the mess and try to rescue wildlife. It has spent more than 700,000 reais ($390,000), including emergency donations to the more than 3,000 low-income fishing families devastated by the spill.
31 January 2000 – Angered by a major oil spill that destroyed their livelihood two weeks ago, Brazilian fishermen blockaded the entrance to Rio's bay today, in an hour-long protest that halted all shipping headed to the city. The fishermen, who stretched their trawlers in a line across the bay, said the release of 8,000 barrels of fuel oil had caused more than just ecological harm. Fisherman Joberto Alves said:
We are criticising what is being done … We don't have any way to make money. But what they are offering doesn't cover even half of what the fishing earns.
State oil company, Petrobras, has said that starting on Wednesday (February 2), it would pay fishermen up to $280 each to make up for their loss in income. Demonstrators today said the disaster threatened to wipe out not only fishing but also other bay-dependent industries such as tourism. Rio State Deputy, Carlos Santana, told protesters:
All parts of society have to be part of this discussion. You don't see the oil on top of the water anymore, it has sunk down and is killing everything underneath.
Petrobras president, Henri Philippe Reichstul, testified before Rio's state congress today about the company's response. The company has paid a record $28 million fine for environmental crimes as a result of the spill and offered to pick up all of the clean-up costs. Today, Petrobras also said it would give local fishermen between $84 and $280 each in compensation, which reflects their monthly earnings. The minimum monthly wage in Brazil is $75. Petrobras has also distributed thousands of charity packages with food to families in the region.
10 February 2000 – Damage caused by 1.29 million tons of oil spilled by Petrobras into Guanabara Bay, Rio de Janeiro state, led the Brazilian Environmental Institute to fine the oil giant a record R$51.05 million last week. However, because of a provisional measure that allows a 30 per cent discount in cases where infractors admit their guilt, the company only paid R$35.7 million. Petrobras does not have an insurance policy to cover accidents in its 12,000km oil pipeline network.
19 January 2000 – Port Muhammad Bin Qasim, Pakistan
The big oil spill at Port Qasim which caused heavy damage to marine life, has now threatened the nearby facilities of Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) including its Thermal Power Plant (TPP). A communique of Pakistan Steel to PQA said:
In the forebay (intake channel) of Pakistan Steel, a huge quantity of oil (identified as high fuel oil) rushed in on November 25.
The Steel Mills official said here yesterday that the letter was written on November 30 and to date, the PQA authorities have not responded to the letter. The environment protection department of Steel Mills said that the situation was very alarming and there had been no remedials available with the Mills at source. It said that the spill has caused pollution and corrosion problems. It has affected the pitch sides, pits walls, equipment, pipe inner walls, condensers and coolers of the thermal power plant. It held the PQA responsible for such incidents in the area and observed that the PQA should have raised the issue with the polluter vessel which discharged the contaminants into the open sea. Moreover, the situation was also discussed with the PQA officials in detail on November 26. The PQA sources said the spill has caused big losses to marine life and reportedly fish, in large numbers, had died. A PSM official said the Steel Mills intake channel, in addition to the oil, had also had an influx of dead fish, leading to serious problems to PSM's installations.
19 January 2000 – White River, Indiana, USA
A massive fish kill has occurred on a polluted Indiana river. State and federal officials are conducting criminal investigation into the kill, which already numbers in the hundreds of thousands. More than 85 tons of dead fish have piled up along a 50 mile stretch of the White River since it was poisoned five weeks ago, by what investigators suspect was an industrial polishing agent used at an auto parts plant. Environmentalists have complained that the state responded too slowly and failed to keep the public informed. The state said it acted on the information it had, although the Department of Environmental Management conceded that the state should have responded sooner. The catfish, bass, sunfish and other species died between Anderson and Indianapolis along the river, which supplies 60 per cent of the drinking water to 800,000 people in and around Indianapolis. Josh McDermott, who lives near the river said:
It is like someone dropped a nuclear bomb. The fish had jumped six or seven feet onto the shore. It was like they were jumping out of the water to try and get away from whatever it is.
State environmental officials believe the deaths began when sodium dimethyldithiocarbamate, or DMDK, entered Anderson's wastewater treatment plant in mid-December and killed microbes needed to break down ammonia from raw sewage. Then, environmental officials said, the high levels of ammonia and carbon disulfide, a by-product of DMDK, were released into the river. Both chemicals are dangerous to aquatic life. The state said the contamination never posed a threat to people. Ten industrial companies in Anderson filter their waste through the treatment plant. Only one, Guide Corp., which makes auto parts, uses DMDK, according to the Department of Environmental Management. Exactly how the DMDK got into the water is unclear. Guide is supposed to pre-treat its waste before releasing it to the city treatment plant, environmental officials said. Guide has denied responsibility for the contamination. Even if Guide is not responsible, it could be fined up to $50,000 for twice refusing to allow state environmental inspectors inside its plant. On January 12, state officials obtained a search warrant and went inside to question employees and examine records. Guide spokesman, Raquel Bahamonde, said the company simply wants to:
Ensure it can reasonably and responsibly comply with the department's continued requests for information without disrupting its business.
Guide and the state aren't the only ones under fire. The Anderson wastewater treatment plant was criticised for allowing a week to pass before reporting elevated levels of ammonia in discharge material. For now, the Indianapolis Water Co. is increasing chlorine treatment and is drawing more of its water from other sources as a precaution. The Department of Natural Resources said it is too soon to say how long it will take the river to recover. Spokesman Stephen Sellers said:
You cannot take away in a week what took so many years for nature to place there and expect that things will recover miraculously.
22 January 2000 – Ireland
Part of Ireland's west coast may be under threat from oil spilt in a collision between a Dutch fishing vessel (m fish factory Friesland, 3,440gt, built 1986) and a Spanish vessel (mfv Jose Luisa y Mary), the Irish Marine Emergency Service said today. Authorities said 34,000 gallons of medium fuel oil had escaped from the Dutch vessel during the collision, around 80 miles west of the Aran Islands. An IMES official said the slick, estimated by the Irish air force to measure 3sq.km, was drifting slowly south at a rate of 12 miles per day, and that it was not clear whether or not it would wash ashore.
Friesland was holed above the water line in her foreward section. A fuel tank was ruptured and some 34,000 gallons of medium fuel oil escaped. Jose Luisa y Mary sustained bow damage. Both vessels have now proceeded. Friesland is heading back to the Netherlands. Jose Luisa y Mary is heading back to Spain. A private, specialist pollution company is now assessing the spillage.
24 January 2000 – The Irish Marine Emergency Service is monitoring an oil slick that it has declared a serious threat to the west coast. It occurred when an estimated 34,000 gallons of oil spilled into the sea 80 miles west of the Aran Islands after m fish factory Friesland and mfv Jose Luisa y Mary collided. No injuries were reported to the crews. The Irish Marine Emergency Service said it would advise the UK Coastguard when the vessels passed into their area of control. It called in an Air Corps surveillance aircraft and sent naval vessel Aisling to the area, to assess the extent of the spill. This was reported to be a slick measuring about 4006100 metres and moving in a southerly direction. Monitoring of the slick is continuing.
24 January 2000 – The skipper of Dutch m fish factory Friesland is to be interviewed about an oil spill off the Irish west coast during the week-end (January 22-23). It has been confirmed that the pollution incident was much smaller than first reported. The spill is now believed to comprise only about 500 gallons, or just under two tonnes. This is based on evidence supplied by an Air Atlantique aircraft equipped with remote sensing equipment. The slick, which had broken into three parts with a total length of 4km yesterday, no longer poses any threat to the Irish coastline, the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources said. A Department spokesman denied that the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Dr Woods, was being "alarmist" when he described it initially as a major incident. Information given by the Dutch skipper after Saturday's collision indicated that the spill from his vessel constituted about 34,000 gallons of intermediate fuel oil and this represented a "serious threat" to this coastline, the spokesman said. However, given that it was not heavy crude oil, winds had already gone northerly and both vessels were still described as seaworthy, even a slick of that size could have broken up before reaching shore. On Saturday, the Irish Marine Emergency Service (IMES) had estimated that it was about 400m6100m and was moving south at 15 miles per day.
23 January 2000 – Gulf of Mexico
A crude oil slick floated on the Gulf of Mexico today, after an underwater pipeline was ruptured by an eight – ton anchor dropped accidentally from a drilling rig. The slick was floating slowly westwards, about 115 miles south of New Orleans and 75 miles south of the closest land, and did not pose an immediate threat to coastal areas. No dead birds or fish had been spotted. Airplanes were used to spread a chemical to disperse the oil, and five oil recovery boats were sent to the area. About 94,000 gallons of oil poured into the water yesterday, creating a slick two miles long and two miles wide. Today, the slick was roughly the same width but had stretched to seven miles long. The drill rig was being towed to a new location yesterday when the anchor dropped into water 440 feet deep and snagged the pipeline, dragging it and causing several breaks, Coast Guard spokesman Jason Neubauer said. The pipeline, owned by Equilon Pipeline Co. of New Orleans, was shut down after monitoring systems detected a pressure drop, said Mary Dokianos, a spokesman for Shell, which is a partial owner of Equilon. The owner of the drill rig, Transoccan Sedco Forex Inc. of Houston, said the accident was caused by a malfunction in the rig's anchor winch. No one was hurt.
22 January 2000 – Action was being taken today to disperse more than 94,000 gallons of crude oil that spilled when the anchor of a submersible drilling rig ruptured a pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico about 120 miles south of New Orleans, the Coast Guard said. Chemical dispersants were being used to try to break up the seven-mile-long sheen and accelerate natural degradation, authorities reported. Some residual oil located in the damaged pipeline continued to seep out, they said. No information was available on when the pipeline would be repaired.
24 January 2000 – Transocean Sedco Forex Inc. said today that its semi-submersible drilling platform Transocean 96 (9,846gt, built 1975) experienced an apparent anchor winch failure while under tow this morning, and an anchor dropped and damaged the Poseidon Pipeline in Ship Shoal Block 332 in the US Gulf of Mexico. No injuries resulted from the incident. Oil was observed on the surface at approximately 1000 hrs at the site, which is located about 75 miles south of Houma, Louisiana. All appropriate governmental agencies have been notified and Transocean Sedco Forex has been informed that the pipeline has been shut in by Equilon Pipeline Company, which operates the pipeline. Transocean Sedeo Forex is working with Equilon's emergency response team and with all appropriate governmental agencies with respect to remediation efforts, which are already under way. Transoacean Sedco Forex is continuing to investigate the incident, but expects that insurance will substantially cover any potential liability associated with this matter.
Little remained today of a 94,000-gallon crude oil spill that had created a seven-mile-long slick on the Gulf of Mexico. Chemical dispersants had broken up the oil so effectively that there was nothing to gather up and no damage to shoreline, birds or water creatures, Coast Guard Li Richard Reinemann said. Air crews sent to survey the area, about 115 miles south of New Orleans, reported only a few very thin patches. The oil gushed into the ocean Friday (January 21) when an eight-ton anchor, dropped accidentally by a malfunctioning winch on a drilling platform that was being towed to a new site, ripped open a pipeline at a depth of 440ft. The slick was seven miles long by two miles wide yesterday. The pipeline, owned by Equilon Pipeline Co. of New Orleans, was shut down after monitors detected a pressure drop, said Mary Dokianos, a spokesman for Shell, which is a partial owner of Equilon.
25 January 2000 – Heavy seas and blustery winds today in the Gulf of Mexico delayed the start of an effort to replace several miles of a ruptured pipeline that leaked 94,000 gallons of crude oil. Sea conditions were so rough that divers could not leave a barge brought to the scene to begin an extended period of repairs, said US Coast Guard spokesman, Jason Neubauer. A small sheen of oil remained on the water near the spot where an 8-ton anchor dropped accidentally from a drilling platform (semi-submersible drilling platform Transocean 96) and snagged the underwater pipeline on Friday. But 8-foot waves and 23 mph winds were expected to quickly break up the sheen, located about 115 miles south of New Orleans and 75 miles south of the closest land. The spill originally created a slick about two miles square that had stretched to seven miles long by two miles wide on Saturday. By yesterday, chemical dispersants dropped from airplanes had broken up the oil so effectively that there was nothing to gather up and no damage to shore-line, birds or water creatures. The anchor, dropped from the platform as it was being moved from one place to another, pierced the pipeline at a depth of 440 feet, Neubauer said. The pipeline then broke in three more places as it was dragged across the ocean floor. The pipeline, owned by Equilon Pipeline Co. of New Orleans, was shut down after monitoring systems detected a pressure drop, said Mary Dokianos, a spokesman for Shell, which is a partial owner of Equilon. The federal Minerals Management Service will supervise the repairs, but the Coast Guard will keep boats in the area in case of any more leaks. Repairing the pipeline will take a long time because the damage was so extensive, but Neubauer was not sure exactly how long.
25 January 2000 – The damaged 200,000 barrel-per-day Poseidon crude oil pipeline in the US Gulf of Mexico is likely to remain closed for several weeks, a spokesman for its operator, Equilon Pipeline Co., said today. Equilon spokesman Dave McKinney said:
It will be weeks before it's back up but I can't be more specific than that.
McKinney said experts were still assessing the damage, so that they could devise a repair plan. He said:
It's a big project … We're anxious to put a time frame on this and hopefully in a couple of days when they conclude their assessment, they'll be able to do that.
25 January 2000 – Abu Dhabi
Honduran cargo vessel Al Jazya I, 5,426gt, 1,677nt, built 1960, owned by Al Jazya Marine & Shipping Services, Abu Dhabi, sank off the coast of Abu Dhabi in bad weather at 1900 yesterday, possibly due to water ingress through ventilation shafts. The vessel was heading for Somalia with approximately 980 tons of fuel oil that had been sold off at auction at Abu Dhabi free port, after being confiscated by United Nations forces enforcing sanctions against Iraq. As a result of the sinking, an oil slick 600 metres in length and 100 metres in width has formed about 13km north-east of Abu Dhabi. The present indication is that 200-300 tons of fuel has escaped from the vessel. The coast guard, the Abu Dhabi oil company and other companies such as Japan Petroleum Co., and Zadco have moved equipment to the area to deal with the spill.
25 January 2000 – A press report, dated Abu Dhabi today, states: A huge oil spill threatened the Abu Dhabi coastline after vessel Al Jazya I sank seven miles offshore yesterday. Between 200 and 300 tons of oil had leaked out of the stricken vessel by last night, resulting in a slick 600 metres long and 100 metres wide. The vessel operated by Abu Dhabi-based Al Jazya Marine and Shipping Services, sank in six metres of water, about three miles off Sadiyat Island (lat 24 32N, long 54 24E). She was carrying 980 tons of fuel oil from Abu Dhabi Free Port to Somalia when she sank at about "1000" yesterday. A Coast Guard spokesman said the eight crewmen and master had been rescued. There were no injuries. He described the sea at the time as being rough, with eight to ten-foot waves hampering operations to secure the vessel. The spokesman said:
Things are under control in terms of the spread of the spill. Operations are continuing.
Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.'s assistance was requested. Abu Dhabi Marine Operating Co, the Zakum Development Co. and the Petroleum Ports Authority in Ruwais then mobilised equipment and manpower in an effort to control the oil slick. There were unconfirmed reports last night that oil had reached the shoreline of Sadiyat Island. An ADNOC spokesman said: "ADNOC is not issuing anything at this stage".
One well-placed source said:
Adma-Opco, Zadco and the Petroleum Ports Authority are assisting the Federal Environment Agency and the Coast Guard in responding to this spill. Weather conditions, with the wind, are making operations very difficult.
The Petroleum Association of Japan, which has a base at Mussafah, Abu Dhabi, is supplying its equipment. This includes booms, in addition to ADNOC's booms. Oil Spill Response Ltd, based in Southampton, has also been contacted for information and advice. Mina Zayed has supplied a small pollution control vessel. A helicopter inspection is expected to be made at first light today to assess the spill. FEA director, General Salem Al Dhaheri, said boats and diving teams had been sent to inspect the slick and estimate the extent of the pollution. He said:
The FEA is still monitoring the oil spill and informing the authorities.
Al Dhaheri said the Al Taweelah Water Desalination and Power Station had not been affected.
Priority will be given to stopping the slick reaching the power station and to protect the north of Sadiyat Island. The water is not deep and is sensitive to oil pollution.
It is possible that the oil being carried by AlJazya I was auctioned at Abu Dhabi Free Port after being confiscated by UN forces enforcing sanctions against Iraq.
25 January 2000 – Clean-up teams have brought under control an oil spill in the Gulf from Honduras "tanker" Al Jazya I, officials said today. A UAE coast guard official said:
All efforts have been utilised to contain the oil slick. The situation is under control.
Al Jazya I, owned by a UAE firm and carrying about 900 tonnes of heavy fuel, as well as fuel for her own use, sank yesterday initially causing an oil slick up to 900 metres long after 200-300 tonnes of oil leaked out, officials said. All nine crew were rescued. They said choppy seas and oil dispersal operations yesterday had now reduced the slick to 200-300 metres. Six clean-up vessels, owned by subsidiaries of Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., as well as coast guard and other vessels, were on the scene, an ADNOC official said. Divers were also at the site, trying to plug the leaks from the 80-metre tanker. The coast guard said the clean-up would be completed in one or two days. The vessel, which sank in a shipping lane a few kilometres off the Abu Dhabi coast, would be refloated and towed away, the coast guard added.
The 1960-built Honduras-flagged vessel was carrying 980 tonnes of fuel oil, and is believed to have been carrying confiscated Iraqi oil from UN sanctions busters, auctioned off in Abu Dhabi recently. The AlJazya I was en route from Abu Dhabi Free Port to Somalia when it sank. No other vessel was involved in the incident and its cause is not yet known. The captain and eight crew members were safely rescued by Abu Dhabi Coastguard, with no injuries reported.
Al Jazya I was a flat-bottomed design unsuitable for ocean passage, according to UAE marine sources. The 40-year-old Honduras-flagged vessel was also in a poor condition. Inspections undertaken in 1998 revealed that the hull was very badly corroded, with wooden bungs and even rags acting as plugs. Weather conditions yesterday in the Gulf were rough, and unofficial reports indicate that the vessel did succumb to the weather.
Leakage of fuel from the vessel has been contained by plugging the holes and the remaining fuel is being pumped into another vessel. Understand hundreds of tons of fuel has leaked out and reached the shore, threatening mangrove plantations and bird life on the coast. The accident has had no effect on shipping traffic in the area. It has been reported by officials that the vessel may have been operating illegally in United Arab Emirates waters. Understand the vessel was designed to carry light oil but she was carrying heavy oil and the accident was caused by over-loading of the vessel.
26 January 2000 – All the holes in the stricken tanker Al Jazya I which sank seven miles off the Abu Dhabi coast on Monday have been plugged and the vessel's remaining 400 tonnes of oil are being pumped into another vessel. Nevertheless, hundreds of tonnes of oil have leaked from the vessel and reached land, threatening mangrove plantations and bird life on the coast. Al Jazya I went down in heavy seas at about 1000 Monday. By yesterday morning she had completely sunk. Officials said the vessel may have been operating illegally in UAE waters. Early yesterday a technical team from the Federal Environment Agency (FEA) visited the site, three miles off Sadiyat Island. FEA Director-General, Salem Al Dhaheri, said efforts to contain the spill had resumed at first light yesterday:
The Coast Guard divers managed to reach the vessel and close off all the holes from where the oil was leaking, and leakage has been controlled. As a result of the wind, the oil spill has dispersed into a group of smaller slicks covering a large area between the south of Sadiyat Island and Ras Ghurab Island. Part of the slick hit the coast of Sadiyal Island and a very small quantity reached the creek between Ras Ghurab and Saadiyat.
An Abu Dhabi Seaport Authority spokesman said:
The operation to stop the leakage was terminated at 1130 hrs with full success. The operation to pump the remaining fuel into another vessel has started. It is very difficult to evaluate the quantity of oil already spilled. However, efforts are on to ensure no damage is done to the environment.
A source at the port said the accident has had no effect on shipping movements. Sadiyat Island has so far escaped the worst effects of the spill. Al Dhaheri confirmed that the coast near Sadiyat had been little affected, but "chemical spraying and other operations are continuing successfully." A seven-point action plan was drawn up by operations room officials and the oil companies. First, work to remove the remaining oil will continue and an attempt will be made to refloat the vessel. Operations to contain the slick will also continue, and an assessment of the best ways to disperse the oil which has reached the creek will be made. Officials will reassess the measures taken to protect water resources around the desalination plant at Umm Al Nar, and measures to protect Zayed Port will be reviewed. Safety measures near the Al Taweelah desalination and power plant will be increased, although Al Dhaheri noted that oil was far from this area at present. An official at the Free Port, meanwhile, said that the fuel oil being carried by Al Jazya I was from a recently confiscated vessel caught breaking UN sanctions on Iraq. He said:
The oil was sold in an open auction.
An official at the Ministry of Communication's Marine Section said the tanker was operating illegally in UAE waters. He added that the ministry had no record of Al Jazya I to indicate it held a navigation licence or was permitted to operate in territorial waters. He believed the tanker must have entered the port as a calling vessel to collect cargo. He explained:
Even in this case, the vessel was operating illegally, because the law does not allow this type of operation. Article 9 of law No 110 of 1998 does not allow foreign vessels to navigate in UAE waters with a cargo or storage of oil and its by-products.According to UAE law, tankers ten years old or more are not allowed to navigate in UAE waters. The law denies these old vessel or tankers registration at UAE ports or issuance of navigation licences to operate in territorial waters. Simply, it was an illegal cargo.
Environmentalists expressed fears of the effect the slick may have on bird life and coastal habitats. Al Dhaheri said it was too early to assess the environmental impact.
27 January 2000 – The clean-up operation in the wake of the tanker Al Jazya I oil spill off Abu Dhabi began yesterday. Dozens of Abu Dhabi municipality workers began the difficult task of clearing up oil which had reached beaches of the lagoon between Sadiyat Island and Ras Ghurab. The pollution also hit Balghelam Island on Tuesday, where about 10 to 20 municipality workers started cleaning the beaches. Hamad Abdul Rahman Al Madfa, Minister of Health and Chairman of the Federal Environment Agency, which is co-ordinating efforts to contain the spill, said a 100-strong municipality team had been mobilised. He said the situation on the beaches would be assessed and a decision would be made as to whether a specialist private company would be brought in to help the clean up efforts. Rashid Saeed Rashid, who was leading municipality efforts on Sadiyat Island, said 40 workers had been brought in, with three supervisors, to carry out their cleaning mission on the island. He said:
The first thing we have to do is to conduct a brief survey of the beaches and mark the affected spots for cleaning. It may take a couple of days or a week to complete the work. The work depends on the length of the polluted beaches.
The workers started cleaning a two-kilometre stretch of beach near the Abu Dhabi Radio transmitter station on the island. Rashid said their task is to remove the polluted sand and grass on the beach and fill them in plastic sacks, shifting them to the mainland. He said:
The work seems to be easy because the oil is still on the surface of the sand and had not penetrated it. Only a few centimetres of sand has to be removed to clean the pollution. It is because of the nature of the oil that it remained on the sand. However, we have to do the job quickly, before the oil is buried by wind and waves.
The municipality official also said that about ten to 20 workers from their Shahama branch have started cleaning the beaches on Baighelam island. Coast guard officials yesterday confirmed that eight crew members and the master of the vessel were currently in police custody. It is understood they are being held by Mina Police. The crew are a mixture of Iraqis, Indians, Bangladeshis and Tanzanians. Al Madfa, who chaired a meeting of operations room personnel yesterday, announced a deal had been reached with an unnamed specialist company to pump out the remaining oil on Al Jazya I, carry out the salvage operation, refloat the vessel and tow her to port. He said it had been decided that Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc), the Zakum Development Company (Zadco) and Abu Dhabi Marine Operating Company (Adma-Opco) would continue responsibility for fighting the oil in the water, using dispersants. Officials also ordered a boom to be put around Al Jazya I to contain any leaks which might spring up in the future. A vessel will remain in the area to co-ordinate efforts. Al Madfa added:
It was also agreed that the Coast Guard should continue monitoring the site and intervene quickly if there are any leaks in the body of the vessel.
Elsewhere, the Lamnalco Group, a Sharjah-based marine services company, yesterday deployed offshore pollution control equipment, including booms and skimmers, at the Taweelah Power Station. The equipment was supplied from the Petroleum Association of Japan's (PAJ) stockpile in Mussafah, and has been deployed as a precaution in case the slick reaches the station. The Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency (ERWDA) has been charged with monitoring marine life and plants for any oil pollution. One source said there were reports that oiled waders had been discovered on Sadiyat island, and an ERWDA official did not discount the possibility. Fears were also expressed yesterday that the clean-up operation could have a damaging effect on historic and archaeological sites in the oil-affected area. A spokesman for the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey (ADIAS) said:
Baighelam island has a number of important archaeological sites dating from the bronze age, around 4,000 years ago, until the late Islamic period.
Many of these sites are very fragile and difficult to identify. Most of them are very close to the beaches and could be damaged irreparably if heavy equipment is used in the clean-up operations. There are also other sites near Ras Tianjurah and on the mainland at Ras Bilyaryar, dating from the 1st Millennium AD onwards.
M tanker Al Jazya I is 681gt (not as before reported), 381 nt, length 80 metres, built in the Netherlands around 1958, owner Al Jaziah Co., Abu Dhabi. She is a converted water tanker outfitted with six pairs of tanks, i.e. 12 in all. Currently, plans are being drawn up for removal of her oil, but due to incoming bad weather in area most likely action on Saturday. She was loaded with 950 tonnes of bunker C and carried 15 tonnes of diesel for her own propulsion. She is currently lying on a flat bed of coral at a depth of 8/9 metres. There are no signs of any (further) leakage. The vessel apparently sank due to ingress of water in accommodation forward.
27 January 2000 – Operations to refloat the tanker Al Jazya I will begin after residual cargo of heavy fuel oil within the wreck has been completely pumped out. The slick caused by the wreck has broken up due to strong winds and is now spread over a wide area. Two substantial slicks were reported yesterday afternoon to be threatening Port Zayed and Ras Ghurab Island. Some mainland beaches have also been affected and a large clean-up operation is in progress. Companies taking part in the oil-spill response are Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., Zakum Development Co. and Abu Dhabi Marine Operating Co. Shirjah-based Lamnalco has deployed booms and skimmers as a precaution to protect the Al Taweelah desalination and power station.
28 January 2000 – The operation to salvage the sunken tanker Al Jazya I began in earnest yesterday as efforts to combat oil pollution continued. Dr Salem Al Dhaheri, Director General of the Federal Environment Agency, which is co-ordinating the accident response, said that the company appointed to recover the vessel had begun moving men and equipment to the scene. AlDhaheri expected everything to be in place by dusk yesterday to begin removing the remaining fuel oil into another vessel. He said this operation should be completed within 24 hours. The stricken vessel is surrounded by a 750-metre protective boom deployed by the Sharjah-based Lamnalco Group, using Petroleum Association of Japan equipment stored at Mussafah in Abu Dhabi. Onshore Services marketing manager, Glyn Higginson, said technicians had worked until after dark on Wednesday night to deploy 500 metres of Vikoma Hi-Sprint boom from the PAJ stockpile to form a protective shore-side barrier. Yesterday another 250 metres of boom was laid, to complete a triangular containment area. He said:
If the oil does leak, the special oil skimmers, oil recovery equipment that skims the surface of the water for floating oil, from the PAJ stockpile will also be deployed to recover any spill.
As the clean-up operation continued yesterday, the first reports of oiled birds were received. Al Dhaheri said no dead birds had been recovered, but Dr Walter Pearson, head of the Marine Environment Research Centre at the Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency (ERWDA) said at least 40 birds had been seen partially oiled. A reception centre for oiled birds at the former Abu Dhabi Drilling Chemicals and Products (ADDCAP) base, adjacent to the Coast Guard headquarters, will be ready early tomorrow, when the first casualties are expected to be brought for treatment. On Saadiyat and Baighelam Islands, Abu Dhabi municipality yesterday continued their efforts to clean beaches affected by oil. A 100-strong team removed more than 5,000 sacks of oiled beach sand on Saadiyat Island. Work on the island started about 0930, local time, yesterday and continued until late afternoon. One worker said:
We brought a total of 17,000 plastic sacks and so far have filled more than 5,000 of them with the oiled sand and sea grass to be taken to the mainland.
31 January 2000 – The operation to salve and refloat tanker Al Jazya I, which sank off Abu Dhabi, was hit for a second day yesterday by high winds and rough seas. The emergency operations room at the Federal Environment Agency (FEA) was convened for a fourth time to review progress in the operation and plan the next steps. On Friday, strong winds which whipped up sand on the mainland hampered progress on the stricken vessel at sea. Although yesterday's conditions were initially good, wind speeds increased to 30 knots, again hampering salvage efforts. FEA Director General, Dr Salem Al Dhaheri, confirmed that all equipment and personnel had been put in place to begin recovering the oil on board Al Jazya I. He said a number of precautionary measures had also been agreed, to ensure that when the oil is pumped out of the vessel, there will be no further spillage. These measures include the deployment of further booms and dispersant during the salvage operation, he added. Dr Al Dhaheri said the Coast Guard would continue its patrols around the wreck and monitor the situation. Officials are preparing for a long salvage operation by announcing they will now meet every Saturday and Tuesday to review progress. Daily meetings will take place at the operations room at Abu Dhabi Marine Operating Company. Dr Walter Pearson, head of the Marine Environment Research Centre at the Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency, said two vessels from the organisation had carried out surveys of affected areas yesterday. He said that although between 70 and 100 oiled birds had been spotted, they were not too badly affected and were able to fly. He said ERWDA personnel had been put on stand-by if birds were discovered unable to fly. Dr Pearson said the situation regarding polluted mangroves was also being monitored.
The point about cleaning mangroves is that you can do more damage than good if you do not do it correctly. We need to know how bad the situation is.
2 February 2000 – Efforts to salve the sunken tanker Al Jazya I were hampered for a fifth day yesterday by strong winds and rough seas. Officials had hoped conditions would have improved sufficiently to begin pumping out the remaining 500 tons of fuel oil, but a ten-foot swell again dashed hopes of transferring the oil to another vessel.
6 February 2000 – The pumping of the remaining oil from the sunken tanker Al Jazya 1 should be completed today, provided weather conditions allow. Officials said yesterday that the removal of hundreds of tonnes of oil from the vessel had begun late Friday afternoon after the strong winds which had hampered earlier attempts abated. Oil was being removed from the vessel at the rate of about 30 tonnes an hour. By yesterday afternoon about 250 tonnes had been pumped into another vessel. Dr Salem Al Dhaheri, Director General of the Federal Environment Agency, said the operation was being carefully monitored to ensure that no further oil leaked out. Coast Guard officers remained at the scene, and the stricken vessel was surrounded by a protective boom to catch any oil which might have leaked during pumping operations. Once the remaining oil on the vessel has been removed, an attempt will be made to refloat the vessel and bring her to Abu Dhabi Free Port.
7 February 2000 – Enforcement of the new Federal Environment Law will greatly contribute to the protection of the UAE's environment at sea and on land, Minister of Health, Hamad Abdul Rahman Al Madfa, said yesterday. Al Madfa, who is also Board Chairman of the Federal Environmental Agency (FEA), spoke as he inspected the tanker Al Jazya I salvage operation. The new law took effect on February 1. Al Madfa said:
I have deep trust that the new law will be truly implemented to help prevent any environmental disaster. The new law will contribute greatly to preserving the UAE environment and developing its resources.
The law also imposes the death penalty for nuclear waste offences, and fines ranging from Dhl million to Dh10 million for pollution. It was designed to discourage factories and the shipping industry from polluting the environmental resources of the country. During his inspection of the salvage operation, Al Madfa expressed his satisfaction with the work of the White Sea Marine Co. in pumping out the remaining fuel oil from the sunken tanker. The minister witnessed yesterday's operations, along with FEA Director-General Salem Al Dhahiri, FEA Adviser Dr Sa'ad Al Numairi, Border and Coast Guard Commander, Commodore Abdul Rahman Saleh Shalwah, and other senior Coast Guard officers. The operation to pump out the remaining oil was delayed briefly by a technical problem on Saturday night, said Captain Peter Holloway, Abu Dhabi Manager for London Offshore Consultants. He said yesterday:
We started pumping the sixth of 12 tanks this afternoon. By tomorrow morning, 30 to 40 per cent of the remaining oil in the tank will be left for pumping out into a barge. If good progress is made then we anticipate completion will be tomorrow evening. Unfortunately, bad weather is forecast for tomorrow, and completion may be delayed.
8 February 2000 – The pumping out of the remaining oil in the sunken tanker Al Jazya I was completed yesterday afternoon. The oil was safely transferred to Abu Dhabi Free Port. The oil recovery operation, which had been delayed due to intermittent bad weather during the past week, was completed at 1400 hrs. The salvage operation is being carried out by Sharjah-based White Sea Shipping. The remaining oil in the wreck was transferred into a 46 metre-long ANVI5 barge. Captain Peter Holloway, Abu Dhabi Manager for London Offshore Consultants, said the barge was brought safely back to port. Holloway said:
There was no leakage at all. However, it left a small oil residue on the way, which does not pose any significant threat to the marine environment. We were lucky to bring the barge safely in the bad weather.
Conditions yesterday were favourable until the afternoon, when the winds picked up, increasing the sea swell. On the quantity of recovered oil, he said it was very difficult to measure because of the presence of water in the oil: "In the next day or so, we will be able to ascertain the exact quantity".
He said the next stage of the ongoing salvage operation is to refloat the sunken wreck of Al Jazya I. It will be difficult to start this if the weather continues to remain windy today:
This wind is too strong to complete the opera- tion. We need very good weather. However, all the preparations for refloating the wreck have already been carried out. It all depends on the weather now.
14 February 2000 – Tanker Al Jazya I, was refloated on Feb 11 after several days' delay due to bad weather. She appeared relatively undamaged as she surfaced during the salvage operation, carried out by Sharjah-based White Sea Shipping. She was then towed into Abu Dhabi, where she will undergo examination by United Arab Emirates coast guard officials, prior to the court appearance of the crew. The Iraqi master and nine crew, five from Iraq, two from India and one each from Bangladesh and Tanzania, were released on bail last week, pending further investigations. When she sank, Al Jazya I spilled 500 tonnes of intermediate fuel oil into the Arabian Gulf. As well as charges related to pollution, the owners and crew are also accused of operating the vessel illegally, due to the absence of various statutory certificates.
28 January 2000 – Clark County, Kentucky, US
It could take days or weeks to clean up the crude oil that leaked from a 24-inch underground pipeline in rural Clark County, according to a state emergency official. The pipeline, owned by Marathon Ashland Petroleum (MAP), ruptured yesterday afternoon, releasing an unknown amount of oil into Two Mile Creek, about two miles southwest of Winchester. State officials advised people living next to, or near, the creek to extinguish any indoor or outdoor fires, to keep people and animals away from the creek and to avoid using spring or well-water from the area. At least five families were evacuated to a nearby motel, said MAP spokesman, Troy Reynolds. Though there was no evacuation, MAP offered to house worried residents overnight in a nearby motel. The company's pipeline carries oil from Owensboro, in western Kentucky, to a refinery in Catlettsburg, in eastern Kentucky. MAP is a joint venture of Marathon Oil and Ashland Inc. Reynolds said the pipeline is typically buried up to six feet deep. It was unclear how far down workers had to dig to get to the break, he said. Spokesman ChuckRice said officials at the pipeline's control centre in Findlay, Ohio, noticed a pressure drop in the pipeline in the middle of the afternoon yesterday, around the same time fire officials in Clark County were getting their first phone calls from local residents. Rice said the company dispatched teams from Louisville and Findlay to assess damage and assist with clean-up. He said it was not immediately clear how much oil had leaked or what caused the rupture. Logan Weiler, regional manager for the state Division of Emergency Management said the spill occurred near the fifth green of the South Wind Golf Course, with oil oozing up from underground and into Two Mile Creek, a tributary of the Kentucky River that meanders through lightly-populated farmland. Weiler said the oil went about a mile down the creek before it was contained by clean-up crews. Rice said the crews deployed booms and were building three earthen dams to keep the oil from moving further downstream. Weiler was one of about three dozen to four dozen people on the scene overnight, including state and local officials and clean-up contractors, who were using vacuum trucks to suck up the spilled oil and put it into tanker trucks. Though the creek was not frozen, single-digit winter weather made it slower-moving than normal, Weiler said. No major sources of drinking water were threatened by the oil, which he said would have had to reach the Kentucky River, and go another quarter-mile before reaching the intake for Winchester's municipal water supply. Rice said a precautionary boom was being erected where Two Mile Creek enters the Kentucky River, to keep any oil that might get that far from reaching the river. Weiler said officials were focused more on containment than figuring out what happened.
31 January 2000 – Cuba
Three Polish crew members were missing after an explosion that "partially" sank a Cuban-operated oil tanker outside a port on Cuba's north coast yesterday, the Transport Ministry said today. A ministry statement said two other members of the 24-person Polish crew were injured in the blast on board mtanker Sletreal (5,451gt, built 1983) as she was manoeuvring to take on a cargo of crude oil in Cardenas, about 85 miles east of Havana. The rest of the crew was rescued after the explosion on Sunday (January 30) afternoon. An oil spill occurred, but that was "under control" and Cuban authorities were cleaning up the spill, the ministry said, without giving more details. Cardenas Bay and port is near Cuba's premier beach resort of Varadero, popular with foreign tourists, but there was no indication that any beaches were affected by the oil spill. The ministry said the tanker, chartered by the Cuban shipping company, Petrocost, and operated by the state oil company Cupet, was left "partially sunk" near the port's access channel, although it was not an obstacle to shipping. Cuban authorities were investigating the cause of the accident.
1 February 2000 – M tanker Sletreal had explosion on board at Cardenas, January 30. The explosion tore the vessel in two in way of Nos 2 and 3 cargo tanks and the aft-part drifted and grounded about two miles east of the lighthouse. There are no prospects of salvage. Three crewmen are missing.
2 February 2000 – Coos Bay, OR, USA
The US Coast Guard today ended its supervision of the clean-up of spilled oil from the beached m wood-chip carrier New Carissa. The decision was made by Coast Guard Capt. James Spitzer, the federal on-scene co-ordinator, after consulting with state officials, the Coast Guard said. Spitzer said:
Our greatest concern during recent months has been the continuing, very small oil releases from the wreck, and the potential harm to the Western Snowy Plover, protected in Oregon under the Endangered Species Act. However following nearly eight months of monitoring, I have no reason to believe that anything other than small pockets of clinging oil are present on the remaining sections of the wreck, or that the rate of release is likely to increase appreciably. Therefore, I do not foresee a need to direct the responsible party's wreck removal.
He said the risk of oil release could rise as work continues on removal of the stern. He said if present circumstances change or if the preparations of the owners and their insurers fall short of the environmental need, the Coast Guard will re-examine its decision. The Coast Guard said it will continue to deal with navigation safety issues regarding efforts to remove the beached stern.
4 February 2000 – The insurer of mwood-chip carrier New Carissa, Britannia Steam Ship Association Ltd, says it may be impossible to remove the 200-foot stern section that remains mired in the sand offshore. The company has asked the state to consider letting salvage crews remove only parts of the stern. The wreckage continues to leak heavy fuel oil near sensitive nesting areas of the Western Snowy Plover, a federally protected – species. Bill Milwee, salvage representative for the company, wrote Paul Cleary, director of the Oregon Division of State Lands, this week requesting a February 25 meeting to discuss removal options. Milwee wrote:
Indeed, we are virtually certain that refloating is already an impossibility.
Milwee said that last year's experience with Oregon's rough surf has salvors concerned that working on board the listing stern might be too dangerous:
The situation we have down there now is much more dangerous and much more difficult than we had last summer.
State officials are considering the liability risk and the threat to wildlife of leaving some or all of the wreck. Last year, Gov. John Kitzhaber demanded full removal. Loren Garner, an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality spill official who represents the state in the incident, said:
It may be appropriate to modify the governor's position.
While oil continues to leak from the vessel, it is in very small quantities, and officials say cutting up the stern section likely would release larger amounts of oil from hidden pockets and interior tanks that are probably still coated with oil. Capt. James Spitzer, head of the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office in Portland, said:
I'm convinced it's better to let that oil come out over a period of decades in the kind of low-grade releases we're getting now.
New Carissa expenditures as of December 8, the latest available, were $20.42 million, said Melinda Merrill, a New Carissa spokeswoman who works for a public relations firm hired by Gallagher Marine Systems. Some of the claims have been only partially paid because they are subject to negotiation. More than half the payments so far have gone to private oil spill response companies. The accounting does not include nearly $7 million in New Carissa – related expenses for which the federal government will seek reimbursement.
8 February 2000 – Lilli Clausen is the largest wholesale oyster producer in Coos Bay and suffered the largest loss of oysters from February to April 1999, when oysters in the bay were devastated. Other oyster growers have settled with the insurers of m wood-chip carrier New Carissa, Britannia Steamship Ltd, but Clausen has held out. According to an independent assessment, Clausen Oysters suffered up to 70 per cent product mortality – four to five times the amount experienced by other growers in the bay. Clausen said for 1999 she will draw about $480,000, down from an $882,000 season in 1998. Part of that drop is because of a loss of product and quality. Part is because of negative media coverage. In addition, shipping to Asia has been out of the question because the remaining oysters are not as big as the ones typically purchased there. Clausen's specialty has been large oysters, which take longer to mature but are more profitable. To pay her bills and fill customer demands last year, Clausen harvested oysters before they were fully grown. Because large oysters take three years to mature, the wholesale distributor will feel the effect of this year's high mortality rate for many years. This year's early harvest will have an effect on how many oysters will be available next year.
Despite settling with the insurance company in May, the long-range effect of the oyster mortality still worries oyster farmer Larry Qualman. His oysters suffered minimal damage from February to April. Because they were located in the South Slough, most were protected by oil booms. Qualman said he still feels frustrated with the US government because of the way it handled the issue and asked:
If the federal government has this money that shipping companies put in for spills, why is there no allotment for those people that were impacted – like the truckers, the oyster people, the fish people? Why can't we get a little help? If you've got to throw yourself at the mercy of the insurance companies, you're going to get nailed.
Under an amendment to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, partial payments should be made to those whose businesses are affected by oil spills, until full settlements are ready. Coos Bay oyster growers say that never happened. While growers were partially reimbursed to compensate employees for a three-week closure immediately following the spill, payments to keep the companies afloat never arrived. Qualman said he felt pressured to take the early settlement because he had just moved to a new facility and money was tight. Also pressuring Coos Bay oyster farmers were conflicting reports from biologists, one suggesting the New Carissa oil spill did not cause the high mortality rate among clusters, the other concluding that chemicals released from the vessel played a role in the oyster deaths.
Clausen's, which normally employs about 15 to 20 full-time harvesters at this time of year, is down to three workers. John Sanner, owner of a refrigerated trucking business in Coos Bay that ships Clausen's oysters to SanFrancisco, also suffered. Once-common 10,000 to 12,000 pound loads of oysters all but stopped for a time. His business has just now begun making twice-weekly trips to California for the oyster company. He said:
Before this happened, I was basically going to San Francisco three times a week, specifically for Clausen Oysters. She was my main haul.
Meanwhile, Clausen is waiting for February 23, when she expects members of the National Pollution Funds Center to examine the damage. Jon Abramson, claims manager for the Centre, in Washington, DC, said the meeting date is tentative. Although the Centre is trying to settle claims quickly, Abramson said it must move with legal precision. Clausen said she's hoping for the best, but has hired a San Francisco attorney.
2 February 2000 – Lake Poopo, Bolivia
A flash flood broke a crude oil pipeline, spilling hundreds of barrels of oil into the Desaguadero River that flows into Lake Poopo, the government reported today. The pipeline is operated by Transredes, which is partially owned by Enron. Transredes sent several experts to help contain the oil and the damage it is causing to a river inhabited by pink flamingoes and other birds. The Desaguadero river flows 250 miles, from the southern tip of Lake Titicaca to Poopo River. Heavy rains on the Bolivian highlands flooded the Desaguadero River Monday (January31) and destroyed the pipeline that flows from Bolivia to Chile. The oil spill had reached Aymara Indian communities located dozens of miles downriver and is expected to reach Lake Poopo today. The Ministry of Sustainable Development sent a mission to the area, 100 miles south of La Paz, to determine the exact amount of oil that spilled, the areas affected and what can be done to contain the damage.
3 February 2000 – Philippines
M bulk carrier NOL Schedar (38,520gt, built 1997) has been pulled free after running aground on the coast of Sual town in Lingayen Bay. The vessel, which had left Newcastle, Australia, January 10, with a cargo of coal bound for the National Power Corporation power plant in Sual town in Pangasinan province on the eastern side of Luzon island, had run aground on January 24. There were no casualties, Malayan Towage and Salvage officials said. Officials of the towage and salvage company which had rescued the vessel could not give information on the cause of the accident. Malayan Towage officials said that their tugs were able to extricate NOL Schedar on January 27. The vessel, which is still in Sual, is undergoing emergency repairs to patch up the holes in her hull. It was not disclosed where the vessel would proceed after the repairs are completed.
3 February 2000 – An undetermined amount of oil is polluting the waters of Bolinao in the Philippines after the grounding of m bulk carrier NOL Schedar on January 24. The vessel, outbound from Australia to off-load oil at the Napocor-owned power plant in Sual, hit a shoal near Lingayen Gulf. The vessel was pulled off by a Malayan Towage and Salvage Corp. tug, but the oil spill worsened when she was refloated and towed to Sual Bay with damage to her single-bottom hull. The slick has polluted beaches and waters, directly affecting fishing and a marine life sanctuary, and now threatens ten coastal villages. Officials have blamed the Coast Guard for not alerting them when the grounding occurred – when measures could have been taken to contain the spill.
7 February 2000 – Amazon Jungle, Brazil
Brazilian authorities scrambled today to avert an environmental disaster in the Amazon jungle after a barge holding nearly 500,000 gallons of oil sank to the bottom of the world's largest river network. Diving teams plunged into the depths of the Rio Para, in the remote jungle state of Para, to remove tanks from the vessel which sank Friday (February 4) while transporting the fuel for US oil giant Texaco. Mauricio Andres Ribeiro at Brazil's environment ministry, said:
Environmental advisers are working alongside the diving teams to prevent ecological damage.
Texaco and state environmental officials have already laid down floating walls to prevent a potential spill from spreading upriver. But Texaco's regional manager, Jose Ferreira Amin, told the press that there was virtually no risk of a spill, since the cooler temperatures at the bottom of the river have thickened the oil. Amin said:
Even if there were (a spill) there would not be a problem since the oil thickens with the cold.
Texaco has contracted "Smith American Inc." and Oil Spill Response Ltd to co-ordinate the clean-up operation.
8 February 2000 – A barge loaded with nearly 500,000 gallons of fuel oil sank in a northern Brazilian river, but officials said today the risk of leakage was very small. The 70-metre barge, operating under contract for Texaco Inc., sank on Friday while her crew was loading 14,000 barrels of heavy fuel oil. The submerged barge was sitting upright about 10 metres below the surface in waters of the Para River near Belem. Laury Ramos, a Belem Port Authority official, said:
There are no signs of oil leaking.
The barge sank with a cargo of 1.8 million liters (470,000 gallons) of oil. No one was hurt in the incident Authorities were investigating the cause. Texac and local authorities were studying ways to salvage the oil without polluting the river, said Texaco's worldwide emergency response director, Harry Rich.
8 February 2000 – Non-propelled tank barge Miss Rondonia, capacity 1.8 million litres of oil in six 300,000 litre tanks, owned by local company Conama, and chartered to Texaco, sank while being filled with heavy fuel to be transported to Munguba, at Vila do Conde, north inner arm, at 0300, local time, February 5. The barge sank at the end of the loading operation without any apparent reason. The barge is now lying on the bottom of the river and an underwater inspection, with video, showed no apparent damage to her hull or any oil spill. Smith American Inc. and Oil Spill Response Ltd are apparently hired to undertake the salvage operation. At this moment, floating barriers are being placed around the barge position.
The submerged barge was sitting upright 10m below the surface of the Rio Para near Belem, 2,350km north of Sao Paulo. If damages to the ecosystems in the area are determined, there will be a fine. Although the barge sank with 1.8m litres of oil on board, Port Authorities said there were no signs of leaks. Diving teams have removed the vessel's tanks, while Texaco and state environmental officials launched floating walls to prevent any potential spill from spreading upriver. Mauricio Andres Ribeiro, of Brazil's environment ministry, said:
Environmental advisers are working alongside the diving teams to prevent ecological damage.
Texaco spokesman, Harry Rich, said salvage teams may either refloat the barge or pump out the oil and transfer it to another vessel. Another company official said there was little risk of a leak, as the cooler temperatures at the bottom of the river had thickened the oil.
8 February 2000 – River Tisza, Hungary
Hungary said today it had been hit by a cyanide spill in the Tisza river, which officials said had forced towns along its banks to close water intakes, and had killed fish and other wildlife. It blamed Romania, which admitted responsibility and in turn said it too was suffering from what it termed the worst such incident in the country for at least a decade. Gabor Horvath, spokesman for the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, said:
It is an unprecedentedly serious environmental catastrophe which obviously originated in Romania.
In Bucharest, Virgil Diaconu, Romania's deputy minister in charge of environmental protection, said:
This is the worst polluting spill in Romania in the past ten years at least.
In the Hungarian town of Szoinok, Mayor Ferene Szalay said that tonnes of dead fish were floating in the river. His city lies some 80km southeast of Budapest and was hit by the spill at mid-day. Szalay said:
The ecological damage caused by this spill is of fantastic size. Some 30 to 40 per cent of the biological life of the river has been destroyed and tonnes of dead fish are floating in the Tisza.
Diaconu said the spill occurred last week at a gold tailings plant in Baia Mare, north-western Romania. Plant executives were not immediately available for comment. Romanian Environment Ministry general manager, Liliana Mara, said the spill occurred on January 31 when a protective wall of a dam at the Aurul smelter was damaged by massive snowfalls. She said cyanide levels 700 times the normal level had been recorded in nearby river water after the spill, adding that the smelter had been closed pending investigations. Mara said:
I want to make it clear that we took immediate steps to minimise the effects of the spill.
Diaconu said Romania had been in permanent contact with Hungarian authorities since the spill. He said the environment ministers of the two countries planned to meet in the Romanian city of SatuMare tomorrow, to discuss the issue. Hungary has begun taking steps to obtain restitution from Romania, the Hungarian Foreign Ministry spokesman said. Horvath said that the Romanian Ambassador to Hungary, Petru Cordos, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on Monday and that Hungary would be asking for restitution. Zoltan Varga, a Hungarian environmental expert, told the Hungarian news agency, MTI, that the environmental damage might be more serious than news reports had suggested and that some species of fish and insects may be wiped out.
10 February 2000 – The head of the embattled Perth mining company, Esmeralda, admitted last night that it took more than two days to stop a cyanide spill from its Romanian mine, which is being blamed for triggering one of the worst environmental catastrophes in Eastern Europe. The spill of 100,000 cubic metres of cyanide-contaminated water began some time on January 30 and was not stemmed until early on the morning of February 2 following the intervention of emergency response crews, Esmeralda's chairman, Mr Brett Montgomery, said. Hungarian media reports now claim that the spill is responsible for poisoning the drinking water of two million Hungarians and killing thousands of birds and fish along the Tisza River, Hungary's second-largest river after the Danube. Yesterday, nine days after the accident, water authorities were reported as saying cyanide concentration in a reservoir supplying the city of Szolnok, 80km south-east of the capital, Budapest, was still 28 times the acceptable level. But in Perth last night, Mr Montgomery was strenuously defending his company, saying the impact of the spill was still unknown. He said the company was still waiting, eight days into the disaster, for the results of water testing by mine officials and Romanian environmental authorities before it could answer the claims. It is understood that those results could be available tomorrow. The company said the spill or "overflow" from the tailings dam was a result of heavy rain and snow in late January which flowed into the nearby Lapus River then joined another tributary that travels 75km to Hungary. While indicating that the company would contest some of the claims made in Hungary, Mr Montgomery conceded that local Romanian authorities had classified the spillage as "a serious accident". A spokesman from the Hungarian Foreign Ministry and a Hungarian Embassy official in Canberra were flagging a massive compensation case over the spill, a move that could spell financial peril for the Perth miners.
10 February 2000 – Serbia said a cyanide spill from a Romanian gold smelter reached its territory today, after flowing down river through Hungary for ten days. A statement of the Serbian Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management ministry, carried by state media, said:
The lip of the pollution spill has been monitored entering our territory.
The statement said:
The ministry warns all users of the waters, the population living along the banks of the river Tisa, that water cannot be used for any purposes, nor can the fish.
The Tisza river flows from Romania into Hungary and then into Serbia, where it is called the Tisa. In Serbia it joins the Danube through a system of canals. Belgrade officials said they did not expect the cyanide levels to be dangerous by the time the spill reaches Yugoslavia.
12 February 2000 – A report from Budapest states: The Hungarian Government has rejected claims by Australian mining company Esmeralda that it has exaggerated the environmental damage caused by an accidental spill of cyanide-tainted water. Perth-based Esmeralda Exploration has played down the effects of an accident at the Baia Mare gold mine it co-owns in Romania's north-west, which is being blamed for killing fish and polluting water along the Somes and Hungary's River Tisza. The Deputy Foreign Minister, My Janos Hermans, said his country would use whatever international treaties it could to win restitution for the January overflow of the contaminated water. Hungary said the damage bill from the spill would run into millions of dollars, with an initial assessment that the cost could exceed $15 million. An estimated 150 tonnes of fish had died, drinking water had been affected and scientists feared the cyanide and heavy metal residue could remain for decades. Hungary said it planned to build a strong scientific case before it took legal action. The European Union described the spill as a "European catastrophe". The EU is considering ways it can help Hungary and Romania, including financial support for an inquiry. The European Commission's vice-president, MsLoyola de Palacio, said Hungary should receive compensation from the mine. She said:
There is a clear principle in the EU that, in general, who contaminates will pay for the restitution, although full restitution here is impossible.
Environmental officials from both countries met to discuss the contamination of the rivers, including issues of compensation.
14 February 2000 – A catastrophic cyanide spill that has decimated nearly all aquatic life in the River Tisza was apparently diluted to non-lethal levels yesterday after flowing into the Danube. The spill originated in Romania and devastated the waterway as it flowed through Hungary and Serbia. In Serbia, dozens of volunteers and fishermen removed hundreds of dead fish from the river. Experts and officials estimate that 80 per cent of the fish in the Tisza have died since the contamination entered the country Friday (February 11). Serbian Environment Minister, Branislav Blazic, said it would take at least five years for life in the river to recover. The cyanide spill originated in north-west Romania, near the border town of Oradea, where a dam at the Baia Mare gold mine overflowed January 30, causing cyanide to pour into streams. At the mine, a cyanide solution is used to separate gold ore from surrounding rock. From there, the polluted water flowed west into the Tisza in Hungary, killing large numbers of fish there, and then into Yugoslavia. Predrag Prolic, a professor of chemistry and toxicology at Belgrade University, said the peak concentration of cyanide in the river was 20 times the permissible level.
15 February 2000 – Romania said yesterday it would not pay compensation to any other country affected by a cyanide spill that had contaminated the Rivers Tisza and Danube. Romania said it, too, had experienced damage when a dam at the Australian-owned Baia Mare gold mine in north-west Romania overflowed January 30, sending cyanide pouring into streams that eventually flowed west into Hungary and Yugoslavia. The Romanian Ministry of Environment claimed that it was as entitled to compensation as Hungary and Yugoslavia. Serbia banned the sale of most freshwater fish yesterday and Hungary warned of long-term, ecological damage as clean-up crews pulled thousands of dead fish from the Tisza and Danube. Hungary and Serbia have demanded that Romania pay compensation for the damage, and the Serbs have threatened to sue Bucharest if their demands are not met. The European Union, meanwhile, said it would help to deal with the spill and would send its top environment official to assess the damage. Serbia's environment minister said today that a cyanide spill had caused concentrations of the poison to rise above allowable levels in parts of the Danube but that the situation was not critical. Environment Minister, Branislav Blazic, said the concentration of cyanide reached 50 times the maximum tolerable level on Sunday (February 13) at one point on the Danube but by yesterday was down to 20 times the maximum tolerable level along the left bank of the river. Blasic said legal action should be taken against the owners of the Romanian gold mine where the spill allegedly originated. He said this could only be done by federal Yugoslav authorities. He said the Danube had diluted the spill, which entered Europe's largest waterway some 50km north of Belgrade Sunday, and he believed it had now left Yugoslav territory. The wave of cyanide, blamed on a spill last month at a Romanian gold smelter half-owned by Australia's Esmeraida Exploration Ltd, washed out of Hungary into Serbia along the northern River Tisza over the weekend. Esmeralda has denied responsibility and said it was sending experts to Romania to prove its innocence. Yugoslav officials have said it posed no threat to people living in towns along the Danube which continues downstream to Romania and Bulgaria. Blazic said Serbian experts had been sent to the gold plant in Baia Mare in Romania to assess the situation. He said the concentration along the left bank of the Danube, late yesterday, amounted to 0.2mg of cyanide per litre – 20 times the maximum tolerable level. The highest level in the Danube was measured on Sunday when it reached 0.5mg at the point where the Tisza flows into the Danube, he said. However, Blazic insisted this was not worrying, saying the cyanide was being diluted and the concentration level was already lower in midstream of the Danube. He said:
The pollution wave should have left Yugoslavia by now. The concentration of cyanide in the Danube has practically been normalised, but the devastation in the Tisza remains.
Yesterday, 500kg of dead fish were picked out of the Danube at the town of Pancevo north of Belgrade, he said. Some 15 tonnes of dead fish had been found over the last few days on the Yugoslav side of the Tisza, which Blazic said had been seriously affected:
The wave of cyanide in these concentrations has caused an ecological catastrophe in Hungary and Serbia. Tisza as an international river will be dead for a number of years.
Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, said today that Hungary would sue the Australian company which ran a Romanian gold smelter blamed for a devastating cyanide spill in the Tisza River. Orban said the spill, which wiped out fish and plant life along almost the entire length of Hungary's second river, had caused damage whose full extent was still impossible to estimate:
We are facing a very serious natural disaster but fortunately there were no human injuries.
Orban told a news conference, where he named fisheries expert, Janos Gonezi, to co-ordinate efforts to deal with the aftermath of what has been called Hungary's worst ecological disaster in decades. Hungarian towns and cities, which depend on the Tisza for drinking water, shut intake valves as a wave of water laced with cyanide – measured at more than ten times the maximum safe level – washed downstream, flowing into the Danube in Serbia at the weekend (February, 12-13). Serbia's environment minister, Branislav Blazic, said today the concentration of cyanide in the Danube had soared to 130 times the permitted amount at one point. Orban said Hungarian legal experts were preparing to seek compensation on three legal fronts, two of which involved going directly after the company which ran the gold smelter in Baia Mare, north-west Romania, where the spill occurred two weeks ago. The smelter, which uses cyanide and huge quantities of water to separate gold from low grade tailings, is half-owned by Australia's Esmeralda Exploration Ltd. Esmeralda has acknowledged a spill took place but says the extent of damage as reported in Hungary, where some officials say 90 per cent of life in the Tisza has been wiped out, is greatly exaggerated. Philip Evers, operations manager at the smelter, said:
No doubt it's a serious incident, but it's been blown out of proportion by the media in all countries.
I don't feel that there's been a major ecological disaster.
An independent team of experts was expected to fly in from Australia later this week, to investigate the incident. Orban said Hungary was developing cases to sue the smelter in Romania, the parent company in Australia and the Romanian government. Orban said:
There are three main directions and two of them belong to the private company while one of them belongs to the case between Romania and Hungary.
He added that while the Australian firm effectively controlled the Romanian company which had caused the pollution, Romania also has "a very clear responsibility as a state". Hungary and Romania have agreed to co-operate in seeking compensation, but both countries have been clearly overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster and are hoping a visit by European Union Environment Commissioner, Margot Wallstrom, this week might result in a European-backed effort to bail them out. Hungarian officials said a full survey of the damage to water life in the Tisza would be completed by late this month. TiborMuller, an Environment Ministry official in charge of rehabilitation, told Hungarian news agency MTJ in Debrecen, eastern Hungary, that scientific and technical experts familiar with the Tisza would be involved in the survey. He added that full rehabilitation of the Tisza might take ten to 15 years, but about 95 per cent of the river life could return in three to four years. In Strasbourg, European Commission President, Romano Prodi, said Europe needed better civil protection plans to cope with such disasters.
16 February 2000 – Yugoslav ecologists today warned of long-term food poisoning in the wake of a cyanide spill and dangerous metal concentrations that already have killed tons of fish in the contaminated Danube and Tisza Rivers. Ecologist Radoje Lausevic said there was a great danger that the river pollution – which was dozens of times above the normal levels – could contaminate the food chain through groundwater and the water used for irrigation. In Budapest, Janos Borbely of the Hungarian Environment Protection Ministry said more than 100 tons of cyanide "got into the river and approximately the same amount of metals," referring to the Romanian Lapus River, which was the first contaminated. Authorities in Serbia have warned farmers not to eat or sell food that grows near the Tisza and Danube Rivers or is otherwise affected by adjoining or underwater currents. They also have warned of dangerous metal concentrations in the rivers. The World Health Organization expressed concern that heavy metals such as lead and cadmium also might have escaped into the water, posing a potentially far greater health threat. As of this morning, the cyanide concentration in the Danube in Romania was four times higher than European Union-accepted levels and almost 20 times higher than the levels permissible in Romania. Septimius Mara, from the monitoring unit of the Romanian Ministry of Environment, said:
The dilution (of the contamination) did not happen to the extent expected.
18 February 2000 – Serbia declared water from the Tisza and Danube rivers safe today, saying cyanide contamination had dropped to harmless levels, after a spill which killed thousands of fish. Lifting its ban on use of the water, it said concentration of the poisonous chemical was now far below allowable levels. In water samples taken, yesterday, in the Tisza and the Danube, cyanide was found only in traces, the ministry in charge of water resources said in a statement carried by the official Tanjug news agency. The ministry said it would continue to check the rivers because there might still be cyanide in the mud. It was unclear whether fishing was still banned. Fishermen on the Danube just north of Belgrade said they had not seen any more dead fish yesterday or today, after spotting many earlier in the week
19 February 2000 – Cyanide levels in the river Danube exceeded permitted limits today, according to Bulgaria's National Environment Protection Agency (NEPA). Tests taken this morning, near the beginning of the Bulgarian stretch of the Danube, showed cyanide concentration of 0.139 milligrammes per litire, exceeding the maximum allowed level of 0.1 milligrammes per litre, NEPA said. The cyanide concentration still exceeds maximum allowed levels, even after flowing such a long distance downstream. The spill, from an industrial plant in Romania, reached Bulgaria yesterday. Samples taken then and earlier today, showed cyanide concentration rising but still slightly below the limit, said Kantardjiev. The Bulgarian government has banned fishing and use of water along the Danube. A few dead fish were found yesterday and sent for tests. The results are expected on Monday.
21 February 2000 – The impact of last month's cyanide spill into two major European rivers may not be known until the spring thaw, a Hungarian scientist says. Dr Laszlo Gaile, a professor of ecology at Szeged University, said Hungarian teams were regularly taking water and mud samples from the Tisza River, checking not only for traces of cyanide but also iron, cadmium and other heavy metals. In Bulgaria today, the environment minister said her country would consider asking Romania to pay compensation for damage caused to the Danube. Evdokia Maneva told state radio that cyanide levels in the western section of Bulgaria's stretch of the Danube were 40 per cent higher than internationally accepted levels. Maneva said Romanian environmental officials had failed to properly inform Bulgaria about the extent of the pollution when the accident occurred.
22 February 2000 – Cyanide contained in melting snow seeped into seven wells near a gold mine that first leaked the poison nearly three weeks ago, contaminating rivers in central Europe, authorities said today. Tons of cyanide-laced water spilled from a containment reservoir operated by the Aurul gold mine near Baia Mare on January 30, spreading into the Tisza and Danube Rivers and killing tons of fish and other wildlife. Following a recent thaw in the Baia Mare area, more cyanide has apparently seeped into the wells of the nearby village of Bozanta Mare, Romanian officials said. Andrei Muresan, head of the Health Authority in Baia Mare, said villagers had been warned about the contamination and have been provided with water for themselves and for domestic animals. Meanwhile, local authorities in counties along the Danube River shut down water pumps supplying water from the Danube as the cyanide wave approached their localities. The cities of Turnu Magurele and Zimnicea in southern Romania were relying only on wells and earlier supplies of water. At Turnu Magurele, some 78 miles south-west of Bucharest, cyanide concentration this afternoon was 9.4 times more than the acceptable level in Romania for human consumption. Authorities in the eastern Romania at the town of Cernavoda, 94 miles east of Bucharest, said they would close the gates separating the Danube from the channel that links it to the Black Sea.
23 February 2000 – Romanian prosecutors today began questioning workers at a gold mine about the circumstances of a devastating cyanide spill last month. "No criminal investigation is going on yet", said Dan Bocurtean, chief prosecutor of the Maramures region, the Mediafax news agency reported. It was still unclear if he would take legal action against the joint Australian-Romanian company running the gold mine. Yesterday cyanide levels in seven wells near the mine were from 4.5 to 700 times higher than the Romanian standards of 0.01mg per litre, said Andrei Muresan, head of the health authority in Baia Mare, 265 miles north-west of Bucharest. Following a recent thaw in the Baia Mare area, more cyanide has apparently seeped into the wells of the nearby village of Bozanta Mare, Romanian officials said. Meanwhile, local authorities in counties along the Danube River shut down water pumps supplying water from the Danube as the cyanide wave approached them. Bocurtean was quoted by Mediafax as saying the workers supervising the reservoir's dam had apparently made no mistake.
14 February 2000 – Vancouver, Canada
A large canola oil spill occurred Friday (February 11) at Neptune Bulk Terminal in North Vancouver. Environment Canada suspects the canola leaked from a pipe carrying the oil from a pumping station to m tanker Poti (13,184gt, built 1981) and estimates the spill could be as much as 50 tons.
13 February 2000 – Canadian environmental authorities said today they had cleaned up most of a vegetable oil spill in Burrard Inlet, one of Canada's biggest Pacific coast harbours near Vancouver. However, they said there were concerns for hundreds of seabirds affected by the spillage of up to 50 tonnes of canola oil, which happened when a pipe ruptured during a transfer into a tanker (m tanker Poti) at the Neptune Bulk Terminals (Canada) Ltd, in North Vancouver on Friday (February 11). Fred Beech, Environment Canada's emergency coordinator for the west coast, said:
The bulk of the spill has been cleaned up, although there is still some residual, but our concern is for the seabirds which will probably not survive the impact.
He said the situation had been worsened by the large numbers of seabirds which seek cover from the cold in the harbour during the winter months. The oil seeped into Stanley Park, 2,450 acres of natural parkland at Burrard Inlet, where the worst of the damage appeared to have occurred. Earlier, Environment Canada said in a statement that canola oil, an edible vegetable-based cooking oil, presented a low risk to humans and the marine environment. It said:
However, it does present a significant threat to waterfowl because of its effect on the insulating properties of bird feathers.
It said Neptune had taken care of the clean-up operation:
Neptune has accepted responsibility for clean-up activities and retained the services of Burrard Clean Operations Ltd to carry out on-water oil recovery and is assisting the SPCA in the recovery of oiled waterfowl.
It said emergency response teams would conduct aerial surveys to determine the extent of damage, however environment officials said they expected the oil to be broken down by the sun within two weeks. A bird rehabilitation centre to treat seabirds covered by oil had been established at the Pacific National Exhibition, and Environment Canada's Canadian Wildlife Service were combing the coast around Burrard for affected waterfowl.