On the morning of 7th October 2018, the Tunisian vessel Ulysse collided with the Cypriot container ship CSL Virginia. At the time of the accident, the Ulysse was travelling from Genoa to the Tunisian port of Rades, while the container ship was at anchor in the open sea some 28 km north of Cap Corse. The hull of the Ulysse became lodged in the starboard side of the container ship, causing a breach several metres long in the tanks of the CSL Virginia. Bunker fuel immediately began to leak out.
That day, the pollution spread over around 25 km and formed 7 distinct slicks. The weather conditions were clement, with low wind and wave conditions and good visibility.
The emergency tow vessel Abeille Flandre arrived on site in the afternoon of 7th October. The oil spill response vessel Jason, with all its spill response equipment, was at the scene by the evening.
On the same day, the RAMOGEPOL Agreement relating to marine pollution between France, Monaco and Italy was activated by the French Maritime Prefect for the Mediterranean and offshore response operations began that very evening. An expert from Cedre was at the scene.
On 8th October, the following vessels arrived on site (in addition to the Abeille Flandre and the Jason):
- The OSRV Ailette with a team of experts from CEPPOL
- The Nos Taurus (Italy), after leaving Livorno
- The Bonassola (Italy), after leaving Genoa
- The Koral (Italy), after leaving Sardinia
During overflights conducted on the 8th and 9th by a French Navy plane, the slicks were located and the extent of the pollution assessed, which helped with offshore oil recovery operations by French and Italian vessels.
On 9th October, the Brezzamare, a ship contracted by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), arrived on site to join the offshore response operations. Meanwhile, attempts were made to dislodge the Ulysse with help from the Jason and the Abeille Flandre, but proved unsuccessful.
On 10th October, nearly 150 m3 of oily water was recovered and stored onboard a vessel.
Meanwhile, operations to extricate the two ships were still underway. They were conducted jointly by Marseille's naval firefighters, French Navy divers and personnel from the company SMIT. A spill response boom was deployed around the two ships.
On 11th October, offshore oil recovery operations continued. In the evening, the Ulysse was separated from the CSL Virginia.
On 12th October, the Ulysse, after obtaining permission to sail from its shipowner, left for a Tunisian port. The CSL Virginia remained at anchor, surrounded by a spill response boom. The French Maritime Prefect ordered the spill response vessels still on site to pump up the oil remaining at sea, with assistance from aircraft for locating the slicks;
On 13th October, the oil slicks at sea gradually drifted northwards. French and Italian efforts have focused on recovering the slicks closest to the coastline. Thanks to favourable weather conditions, spill response operations - oil recovery by pumping and trawling of tarballs formed at sea - were efficient.
On 14th October, oil recovery was facilitated by overflights conducted by surveillance planes. The 12 spill response vessels thus recovered over 1,000 m3 of oily water. According to experts, an estimated 30% evaporated or was absorbed by the environment. Response at sea will now focus on trawling tarballs in the most inshore areas.
On 15th October, the weather conditions were particularly poor, and only the OSRV Jason could conduct recovery operations at sea.
On 16th October, weather conditions worsened further, meaning that no response operations could be carried out. The French Navy personnel made the most of this time to reorganise their recovery systems with a view to implementing trawling operations as soon as the weather improved.
In the early afternoon, oil began to wash up on the shores, in the form of tarballs and patches of very viscous oil, along the stretch of coastline from Cap Lardier to the Gulf of Saint-Tropez. The beaches and coastal riprap were also affected.
At 4:25 pm, the Prefect for the Var area activated the onshore marine pollution contingency plan in order to coordinate the clean-up of the affected shores and set up a incident response unit. It was against this backdrop that the authorities called on Cedre's expertise and we sent two experts on site to assess the situation and put forward an efficient and environmentally-friendly shoreline clean-up action plan.
On 17th October, all the oiled beaches were closed to the public while clean-up operations were being organised: equipment delivery, set-up of technical teams and development of an action plan.
As the weather conditions remained relatively unfavourable for oil recovery at sea, only the Jason continued to implement response operations.
On 18th October, response operations began on the shoreline: recovery of tarballs, patties and small patches of oil, often mixed with Posidonia (genus of seagrass found in warm waters), on beaches in the Var area.
Clean-up was carried out by the local authorities of the affected areas, fire brigades and civil protection units, pending the intervention of an emergency response contractor.
24 beaches across 8 communes were affected by the spill. Samples were taken at different sites by specialised technicians from the French military police force (gendarmerie) to officially determine the origin of the pollution.
On 19th October, the Var Prefect announced that beach clean-up operations, placed under their supervision, would last as long as necessary.
That evening, it was concluded that 26 beaches were affected across 9 communes, of which 8 beaches were being cleaned up by a workforce of 150 people.
By 20th October, 37 beaches across 10 communes in the Var area were affected. Clean-up operations continued and the number of people involved on the shoreline remained constant at 150 people. The contractor Le Floch Dépollution began clean-up operations on Pampelonne beach on the Saint-Tropez peninsula.
On 24th October, once the bunker fuel remaining in the hold and double-hull had been pumped out, the CSL Virginia was able to set off for the port of Constanta in Romania, escorted by the Abeille Flandre.
Around 530 m3 of fuel escaped from the container ship, triggering the mobilisation of an immense workforce (figures provided in press releases from the maritime authority for the Mediterranean):
- 500+ people working onshore, offshore and in the air
- 96,000+ cumulative working hours
- 34 French and Italian vessels
- 11 French and Italian aircraft (helicopters, planes and drones)
- the involvement of the 3 armed forces and the French military police force, as well as all French and international stakeholders working in the name of State action at sea (Customs, maritime military police, maritime affairs, MRCC Mediterranean, the maritime safety commission CSM...)
- intervention by leading State experts and private organisations
By late afternoon on 25th October, the spill had affected 49 beaches across 11 communes. Beach clean-up was being carried out by public stakeholders with a 150-strong workforce comprising personnel from municipalities, the Var departmental council, volunteers from the Var departmental association of forest fire communal committees and civil protection reserves (CCFF - RCSC), the Var fire brigade and civil protection military personnel under the Ministry of the Interior (UIISC7 Brignoles). The private sector was also involved in beach clean-up through the contractor Le Floch Dépollution, mobilising 200 people. The Var Prefect was in charge of leading all clean-up operations.
During a meeting at the incident response unit at the Prefecture, State services and Cedre worked on the clean-up action plan as well as the collection and treatment of oiled waste.
Between 26th October and 1st November, shoreline clean-up operations were difficult due to disastrous weather conditions which, furthermore, caused oil to be remobilised and pollute new sites and/or wash up on already affected shores. On 29th October, the contractor Le Floch Dépollution took over beach clean-up operations, under the responsibility of the Var Prefect. Public stakeholders previously involved in shoreline response withdrew from operations. Since 1st November, small quantities of tarballs have been reported in the Bouches-du-Rhône area, in particular on the beaches of La Ciotat, Port-de-Bouc, Arles and in the calanques of Sormiou, Morgiou and Sujiton. Clean-up operations are still in progress, run by municipal services and civil protection given the small quantities.
On 3rd November, several sites were cleaned up: the beaches of La Ciotat and Port-de-Bouc, the calanques of Sormiou and Morgiou. Samples were taken at the affected sites for analysis, in order to determine the exact original of the oil. Surveys of potentially contaminated sites continued, in particular in the Cassis area. New oil residues were detected in Martigues and public access to oiled sites was banned.
The information presented here will be updated as the situation evolves.
Press releases (in French) from the Maritime Prefecture for the Mediterranean. Videos and photos are available in the French Navy's media library, see Press release n°12 for the link and login details.
Press releases (in French) from the Var Prefect.
Press releases (in French) from the Bouches-du-Rhône Prefect.