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Response to oil pollution

During the period from the beginning of towing until the vessel was re-floated on Monday 9 July 2007, it is estimated that 50 tonnes of the IFO-380 grade and 150 tonnes of MDO were lost. In addition, until the end of operations on the wreck, there was further loss of a combination of oil ‘residues’, consisting of lubricating oil, MDO, gas oil, some IFO-380 and bilge oil, in varying quantities according to the types of operations. It is estimated that a total of 302 tonnes of oil was lost from the MSC Napoli in 2007.
When the MSC Napoli was beached in Lyme Bay, a significant oil pollution risk emerged. Personnel and equipment from the MCA and private stockpiles were rapidly mobilised and this equipment was onsite from 20 January. Furthermore, following the activation of the Mancheplan, the Elan and the Argonaute remained onsite upon request by the UK authorities.

The area was monitored by aerial surveillance and counter pollution measures were taken to protect sensitive sites by the deployment of booms, around the vessel itself and at the rivers Axe and Brit as precautionary measures. No major oil spill happened, but several minor oil spills were dealt with promptly as they occurred during the period when the oil was being pumped out. The largest individual oil spill occurred on 23 January and was estimated to have been of 9 tonnes. Approximately one tonne of dispersant was used to treat this spilled oil at sea.

 The oil washed up on the shore in small quantities was often combined with debris from the burst containers. DRS Demolition, the contractors appointed by the ship owner’s insurers, recovered the oil and oily debris from the shore for disposal at Environment Agency approved sites.

The MCA reported that a single fuel tank containing 200 m3 was damaged and not entirely emptied. It was decided that the remaining 3,512 tonnes of IFO and 152 tonnes of MDO would be removed. To do so, the Forth Fisher was chartered by Smit International.Pumping operations began on 23rd (almost half of the cargo was pumped out over the weekend) and continued day and night, until 6 February from the various tanks and holds onboard.  The high viscosity of the IFO meant that it had to be “hot tapped” prior to pumping and a water injection system had to be used. Divers plugged a pipe leak on 25th. This operation mitigated the major pollution risk and some of the counter pollution means were demobilised. Only the means needed to respond to minor spills remained mobilised. These measures were occasionally reinforced when refloating the wreck and in July when using explosives.

On the French side, in late January, ten days after the beaching of the Napoli, the pollution reached the north coast of Brittany, where surveys were carried out by agents from Cedre’s pilot response and training team. Patties, some with a diameter of up to a metre, and tar balls sporadically polluted certain beaches in the Finistère and Côtes-d’Armor areas over a period of ten days and along 100 km of coastline. The oil was mixed with small plastic packets of chocolate biscuits.

Arrival of packets of biscuits on the French shoreline
Arrival of packets of biscuits on the French shoreline

Suspicions of the Napoli having caused these arrivals were rapidly confirmed by chemical analysis of the fuel oil (conducted by LASEM and Cedre) as well as by the confirmation by the biscuit manufacturer that this cargo had indeed been onboard the vessel (250,000 packets of chocolate biscuits). These arrivals matched up with the leaks of fuel oil and the loss of containers during the first few hours and during towing when the vessel was still in the west end of the Channel. Daily overflights did not pick up these scattered traces at sea, with the exception of a few infrequent patches of sheen which naturally dispersed. An observation and alert network was set up through the mobilisation of professional fishermen, lifeboat personnel and semaphores.

The French Polmar land contingency plan was not activated. Clean-up operations were carried out by local personnel, mainly manually. In early March, surveys conducted jointly by representatives of a private company which took part in clean-up, technical experts from ITOPF (International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation) contracted by the shipowner and agents from Cedre concluded that the beaches were clean and that further clean-up operations on rocky foreshores, where scattered residual traces of weather oil remained, was inappropriate.

Vigipol, the joint union for the protection of the Breton shoreline, then the community of Perros-Guirec and the region of Brittany decided to make a claim against the pollution of the Breton shoreline.

Last update: 28/04/2010