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Sea Spirit/Hesperus

Name
Sea Spirit/Hesperus
Accident date
06/08/1990
Location
Spain
Accident area
14 nautical miles off Tarifa, Andalusia
Spill area
Offshore
Cause of spill
Structural damage
Nature of pollutant
Heavy fuel oil
Quantity spilled
9,860 tonnes
Ship / structure type
Oil tanker
Flag
Cypriot

A collision with the Norwegian liquified gas tanker Hesperus tore a hole in the hull of the oil tanker Sea Spirit, spilling 9,860 tonnes of oil off Gibraltar. The spill occurred near Cap Spartel, forming a large oil slick. This slick was drawn through the Strait of Gibraltar by the prevailing currents and winds, before breaking up and entering the bays of Al Hoceima and Malaga.

Impact

The drifting slicks oiled the Spanish and Moroccan beaches, which are very busy during the summer season. In terms of immediate impact, the tourism industry was more heavily hit than the fishing industry. Fishing was banned in polluted areas in Morocco until all the pollution had disappeared and only for the first few days in Spain.

Response at sea

The Spanish authorities attempted to disperse the slick in vain, as the heavy fuel oil involved in this incident was not dispersible.  Another method was then implemented. The oil was mechanically mixed by boats. This broke up the slicks into small pieces (tarballs), thus reducing the impact on the shoreline.

Different types of booms (containment, shore-sealing, sorbent etc.) were deployed as a precautionary measure at the popular beaches of Al Hoceima. Other sites were also protected by containment booms such as the sensitive Nador Lagoon site. However these booms were not effective, as the personnel in charge of response had not been trained and did not have the experience required to install them correctly.

Response on land

Shoreline clean-up was carried out manually using shovels and rakes, as well as mechanically in certain cases (sandscreeners). On some beaches, straw was laid out to capture the tarballs that washed up on the shore. The oiled straw was then burnt... often on the upper shore. Given that the spill occurred during the summer season, the popular beaches were rapidly and regularly cleaned by the authorities. 

Oil slick reaching shingle beaches (Source: Cedre)
Oil slick reaching shingle beaches (Source: Cedre)
Last update: 23/07/2014

External links

NOAA: IncidentNews Summary, behaviour of the oil, countermeasures etc.