Entangled Med collision ships work themselves free

Ulysse. Credit: French Navy
Ulysse. Credit: French Navy

The two cargo ships that have been locked together off the Mediterranean island of Corsica since 7 October finally became free of each other on the evening of 11 October.

According to the maritime prefecture in the French city of Toulon, they came apart at about 21.30 h local time without outside assistance under the combined effect of sea movement and efforts made earlier in the week to disengage them.

The Tunisian ro-ro vessel Ulysse ran into the anchored Cyprus-flagged box ship CSL Virginia early on 7 October for as-yet-unexplained reasons, breaching CSL Virginia’s side and causing fuel oil to spill into the sea.

Initial efforts to disengage the vessels were unsuccessful. A first attempt was made using the engines of Ulysse to try to reverse it free of CSL Virginia. When this failed to produce a result, the manoeuvre was repeated with assistance from an oceangoing salvage tug and French naval support vessel, but again without success.

Following the unexpected announcement of 11 October, the maritime prefecture said Ulysee was being kept at the scene for evaluation on 12 October, while CSL Virginia had remained at its point of anchorage.

Earlier this week, French environment minister François de Rugy, who visited the scene on 8 October, indicated Ulysse would be directed to the Corsican port of Bastia but that the larger CSL Virginia would likely be towed to the Italian port of Genoa.

The prefecture said a number of vessels remained at the scene to secure it for shipping and monitor it for potential environmental threats. A barrage has been set up around CSL Virginia to protect against further fuel spillage.

On 11 October, specialised vessels worked to recover the intermediate fuel oil that spilled from the tanks of CSL Virginia after the collision.

On 8 October, a 25 km-long pollution slick, several hundred metres wide, was reported, although it was not clear how it would behave. It was said at the time to be moving away from the French and Italian coastline towards the middle of the Mediterranean.

The prefecture, which said the fuel could emulsify, with part of it sinking and part remaining at the surface, indicated on 11 October that 150 m³ of fuel mixed with seawater had been recovered by French and Italian anti-pollution vessels, which were being directed from the air by French navy and customs aircraft.