During the storm
On the night of 30 January 1988, off the western coast of Brittany, some 60 nautical miles (110 km) from Penmarc'h, the Italian oil tanker the Amazzone suffered a violent storm from the northwest. The Amazonne was travelling from Libia to Antwerp (Belgium), via the Ushant Traffic Separation Scheme, with 32,000 tonnes of a paraffinic crude onboard. A 10 to 12 m swell and force 12 winds shook the ship.
The sea beat violently against the front desk of the vessel, and eventually detached the steel cables. The movement of the cables pulled off the covers of 14 Butterworth openings, used for cleaning the tanks. At first, the highly viscous black liquid was pushed back by the water which began to surge in via the access openings. The oil began to escape from the tanks when the vessel reached the Pointe du Raz. The crew did not discover the damage to the vessel until the following day, in the early hours of the morning.
2100 tonnes of fuel at sea
The commanding officer continued his journey, less than 50 nautical miles off the coast. He informed neither the Marine Rescue Coordination Centre, Cross Corsen, nor the Préfecture Maritime, a legal requirement. The tanker made her way up the Ushant Traffic Separation Scheme in the storm. She did not stop in Brest to repair the damage. It was not until some 12 hours after the damage had been discovered that the insurers informed the authorities of the incident, who noted the extent of the trail of pollutant left in the wake of the Amazzone. 2100 tonnes of oil were spilled over a distance of nearly 300 km.
The paraffin-rich oil transported by the Amazzone had been heated to 60 °C in the tanks. When it came into contact with the wild sea, it cooled down and formed an emulsion. The slicks fragmented into small patches, which were rapidly pushed towards the French coast by violent winds.
The pollution reached the northern coast of Finistère on 2 February, then the southern coast on 5 February. The shores of Cotentin were not spared, and were hit on the 8 February. On the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey, 15 km and 10 km repectively of coastline were polluted.
Scattered incidents of oil being washed up on the shore were recorded in the three to four weeks following the disaster. The hydrocarbons appeared in the form of cakes, pellets and scattered patches of mousse. The thick, viscous seaweed-coloured pollutant stuck to the pebbles, rocks, sand and seaweed. In total, nearly 3000 tonnes of the slimy substance polluted the coastline.