Oil slick fears in France after Grimaldi RoRo sinks

A picture taken on March 18, 2019, shows the French Navy (Marine Nationale) ship BSAM Rhone carrying out cleanup operations after the Italian cargo ship Grande America burned and sank in the area. Credit: Fred TANNEAU/ AFP/Getty Images

French authorities have said they anticipate an oil slick some 10 km long and 1 km wide from the now sunk RoRo container vessel, Grande America, to have reached the coast of southern Brittany this week.

The vessel, owned by Italian shipping line Grimaldi, caught fire and capsized in the Bay of Biscay on 10 March while sailing from Germany to Morocco.

According to a statement from Grimaldi, the fire originated in some cargo that had been loaded on board the ship and firefighting operations ceased when the ship was abandoned. There was no loss of life or injury among the 26 crew members and one passenger on the Grande America.

The Royal Navy frigate HMS Argyll rescued all 27 people from the water, and the vessel ultimately sank on 12 March with some 2,200 tonnes of heavy fuel oil on board.

There was a total of 2,210 vehicles loaded onto Grande America when it sank, as well as 365 containers – 45 of which housed hazardous cargo. Grimaldi said it “immediately” dispatched the anchor handling supply vessel Union Lynx to the scene of the wreck to monitor oil spillage and recover any floating containers.

The shipping line has also agreed to undertake a submarine survey of the wreck – which is located at a depth of 4,600m, using the research vessel Pourquoi Pas and a remotely-operated vessel (ROV).

News reports have stated that there were 10 tonnes of hydrochloric acid and 70 tonnes of sulphuric acid on board Grande America when it went under. However, the environmental impacts were expected to be localised because many of the materials had burned up before the vessel sank.

“A Grimaldi-appointed team of experts in marine casualties and pollution prevention is already in Brest in order to monitor the environmental situation and advise any further measures, always in coordination with the French Authorities,” said a statement from the company.

The cause of the fire remains unknown.