A particularly difficult response operation
On the morning of 1st February, the Préfecture Maritime activated Cedre's response intervention centre. It proved very difficult to locate the pollutant and to assess its nature and volume as the extreme weather conditions made aerial surveillance operations challenging. It was practically impossible to predict precisely where and when the extensive slicks covering several knots would reach the coast.
However a French Navy helicopter managed to take a number of initial samples of the pollutant. The EPSHOM (the French Naval Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service) confirmed that the pollutant was a highly viscous crude, with a pour point of 36 °C. Neither pumping nor chemical dispersion were viable options. The aerial dispersion plan was abandonned.
The number of aerial missions increased. On 2nd February, the Polmar Land Plans for Finistère and the Côtes d’Armor were activated. The Polmar Sea Plan was delayed due to bad weather conditions, however all the relevant organisations were on stand-by. A network of operational response centres linked the affected communities. The Manche region had not yet been hit, but preparatory measures were taken.
First measures taken on land
The Departmental Direction of Equipment (DDE) set up mooring posts and floating booms (5 km in total), which belonged to the Brest and Saint Nazaire Polmar Centres. They were assisted by French Navy divers and local fishermen. These measures protected the harbour entrances, the Rade de Brest, the river mouths in Finistère, the straits, the Ile Grande marsh reserve in Ploemeur-Bodou, the estuaries in the Côtes d’Armor and the sensitive aquacultural areas.
On the 3 February the oil began to arrive on the beaches in northern Finistère, and the manual and mecanical clean-up operations began. The most efficient method used for recovering the balls of oil caught in the seaweed was the use of shovels, pitchforks and buckets. Equipment from the public sector was provided to collect the waste. The communities from Saint Mathieu to Cléder requested reinforcements. Volonteers joined forces with firefighters, soldiers, civil defence personnel and equipment employees.
On 3rd February, a lull in the weather meant that the Maritime Prefect for the Atlantic could put the Polmar Sea Plan into action. On 6 February, French Naval vessels carried out trial trawling operations in the Bay of Brest and the Bay of Douarnenez. However this approach was soon abandonned, as the pellets of pollutant slipped through the nets. The use of skimmers vessels, Sirene 20 skimmers and Pollutank inflatable reservoirs carried out by two Navy patrol boats failed. The Polmar Sea Plan ended on 9 February.
On 10 February, more than 800 workers were involved in the clean-up operations. In Pospoder, the first place hit by the pollution, contracted a private organisation to clean up the fresh oil polluting the walls, the quays and the rocks.
An anti-pollution movement was also set up in southern Finistère, then in the Manche region. The DDE equipment and the Polmar stockpiles were made available. On 6 February, the Brest Polmar Centre supplied a ROLBA mechanical rake to rapidly and selectively collect the highly viscous oil found on the beaches in Audierne and Crozon. However the attempts at mechanical recovery proved to be less efficient than manual recovery. At a later stage, the mobile pebble clean-up centre, designed by the French Oil Institute, the French Public Works Research Laboratory (LCPC) and Cedre, was successfully used on pebbles in the Bay of Audierne. This innovative method allowed the conservation of the strip of pebbles protecting the site. In the Côtes d’Armor, the pollution was not as considerable, but extended progressively from east to west between 11 and 25 February. The clean-up operation was carried out by the communities on their own initiative. The most heavily polluted place, Pleubian, requested reinforcements of volonteers.
The clean-up operation
The collected waste was transported to temporary storage sites by heavy machinery, tractors, power shovels and lorries. In the areas that were difficult to access, the waste was recovered manually, then the bags of waste were collected by navy helicopters and flat-bottomed boats.
Seaweed, sand, pebbles and waste were depolluted on site, transported to Brest's deballasting station, or taken to treatment plants. In northern Finistère, 2100 m³ of lightly oiled waste (less than 5 % oil) were buried in the Spernot tip in Brest. All the waste from the southern coasts of Finistère (4375 m³), as well as the 300 m³ of waste collected when clean-up operations on the northern coast were resumed, was gathered together in the open area in Brest's commercial port. Lime treatment operations began on 17 February and were completed on 21 April.
In total, nearly 10,000 tonnes of waste were recovered on the Breton coasts, and 2,000 to 3,000 tonnes on the shores of Normandy.
On each polluted site, the treatment protocol was determined according to the type of shore in question. Treatment tests were carried out on oiled seaweed in Brest's port. Experts from Cedre, the French Oil Institute and the CEVA (European research centre for algae) chose this solution for the 200 tonnes of seaweed collected near Melon-Porspoder. The company contracted to carry out operations was assisted by technicians from Brest's Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The slimy pellets were crushed, then mixed with granula, a highly calcareous quicklime which fixes hydrocarbons. This treatment had previously been used during the Amoco Cadiz spill. The method involved spreading out the oiled seaweed in layers of about 20 cm, compressing it in places to make a homogeneous layer, scattering the quicklime using a spreader, then mixing for a second time before compressing the mixture with a roller (Isopracteur).
A laboratory was responsible for controlling the quality of the lime and measuring the water content of the waste. The resulting substance could be recycled and used as a filling material for roadworks or as garden fertiliser.
In southern Finistère, the compressed oiled sheets were stored and were to be incinerated.
In the Bay of Audierne, the protective strip of pebbles was covered with oil. Some 1200 m³ of polluted pebbles had to be cleaned and replaced before the spring tides, as they had to resume their function of naturally protecting the dunes. Cedre and the French Oil Institute put forward an innovative cleaning technique: a mobile pebble clean-up centre.
The main clean-up operations were completed by the end of February, however pebble clean-up continued into March.
In Finistère, Cedre advised that waste should be gathered on one or two designated sites per sector, in order to facilitate its removal. Agricultural machinery was used to deposit the waste in car parks, on plastic tarpaulins (in the Baie des Trépassés), in specially dug pits (Kersiguenou in Crozon), or in skips set up in car parks (Sainte Anne La Palud).
On 16 February, French Navy Super Frelon helicopters air-lifted the bags of waste from the manual clean-up of the beaches that were difficult to access, for example the beaches of Penhat, Lanroz (Camaret) and Trez Bihan (Telgruc). These sites were impossible to access by boat, even at low tide, because of the high cliffs and rocky breakwater heads surrounding them. The increase in the tides and the worsening of the weather meant that intervention was increasingly urgent, in order to avoid the manually collected pollution being swept out to sea.
The Trez Bihan site was a particularly worrying potential source of pollution for the surrounding non-polluted or previously cleaned areas. Given the considerable costs involved (~£5,000/hour), discussions began between insurers and the relevant authorities. In the end, more than 900 40 kilo bags were deposited on the cliffs, involving 35 round trips in 5 hours. Over 30 m³ of waste was sent to treatment centres.
Waste removed by the sea
n Perzic, 5 m³ of waste was removed by sea. Two boats were transported to Kerloc'h beach by road. The operation took 6 hours and all the bags were recovered, despite the fact that the river barges were poorly adapted for the task.