Oil from sunken tanker reaches French beaches

Friday, January 3, 2003

CAP FERRET, France -- French authorities closed some beaches Thursday after gooey black patches of oil began washing up on France's sandy southwestern coast this week from a sunken and leaking tanker off Spain.

So far, there has been no major damage to the French coast, but French officials were bracing for the possibility that larger oil slicks would reach shore soon.

About 100 large oil slicks -- 10 to 20 square yards in size -- were heading toward France at a rate of about 24 miles a day, said Sylvain Le Berre, of the maritime prefecture in Brest.

"We don't have a prediction about when they will arrive on the coast," Le Berre said Thursday.

Christian Fremont, prefect for the Gironde region, ordered the beach closures while cleanup crews began an effort to scoop up oil from a 60-mile coastline north of Arcachon, about 325 miles southwest of Paris.

The aging, single-hulled Prestige tanker broke in two and sank off Spain's coast on Nov. 19, six days after its hull cracked during a storm. The tanker is estimated to have spilled a quarter of its 20.5 million-gallon cargo of fuel oil, and it is still leaking from its resting place on the ocean floor.

Hundreds of miles of picturesque Spanish coastline have been coated in oily sludge.

Tests confirmed Wednesday that oil washing ashore in France's southwest Landes region, south of Gironde, came from the Prestige.

A day later, patches of oil were reported in several other areas, from Cap Ferret, known for its oyster beds and pine forests, to Ile de Re, an island where many Parisians have summer homes. The results of analyses have not yet been released.

Ecology Minister Roselyne Bachelot said France is ready to launch a broad cleanup if larger oil patches hit shore, but said she is concerned about the long-term effect on communities and tourism.

"This is a sword of Damocles that is going to hover over our heads for a long time," she said in an interview with French daily Le Parisien published Thursday.

Rough weather prevented teams of fishermen recruited to help in the cleanup from casting their fine mesh nets into the Atlantic waters to scoop up the slicks, officials said.

"The trouble, clearly, is the dispersion (of oil) over a relatively large area," said Albert Dupuy, general-secretary of the Aquitaine prefecture, who spoke on France-Info radio.

High winds and rain on the beach caused the oil to mix with sand, making cleanup efforts more difficult, Dupuy said.

Weather permitting, cleanup vessels, including four fishing boats, were to attempt to intercept and scoop up with the oil slicks at sea starting Saturday, Le Berre said.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: