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Urquiola

Name
Urquiola
Accident date
12/05/1976
Location
Spain
Accident area
Entrance to La Coruña harbour
Spill area
Port/harbour
Cause of spill
Grounding
Quantity transported
110,000 tonnes
Nature of pollutant
Kuwait crude oil
Quantity spilled
101,000 tonnes
Ship / structure type
Oil tanker
Built date
1973
Length
276.54 m
Width
39.07 m
Flag
Spanish

The incident

On 12 May 1976, the oil tanker the Urquiola hit a shoal which was not listed on the charts, at La Coruña’s harbour entrance, and damaged her hull. The vessel threatened to explode and was therefore towed away from the port, with only the commanding officer remaining onboard.
Two hours later, the ship exploded and the commanding officer was killed.

An estimated 101,000 tonnes of crude oil (513,000 barrels) burned for 16 hours. Nearly 200 km of coasts were affected and black smoke spread over 100 km inland. A thick black cloud moved towards the Spanish town of La Coruña and was a threat to people with ill health. Monitoring of the air quality detected high levels of volatile gases.
Despite the precautions taken, a second explosion, followed by a fire, took place on the morning of 14 May. The high winds the following days caused the slicks to drift and wash up on the coast.

Response

Response teams set up a boom to contain the oil. Dispersants were spread by tugs and helicopters.

Considerable means were implemented: recrutement of a workforce, arrival of skimmers and dispersants and the local inhabitants were called upon to help out. The clean-up operations proved to be slow and painstaking.
Large stretches of sand were treated, with a risk of creating an imbalance in the biodiversity present. The pollution was treated both mechanically and manually. The use of chemical dispersants was soon abandonned as it promoted the infiltration of the oil into the sediments. Clean-up operations were very slow as the oil was very heavy. A large part of clean-up could only be carried out using buckets and spades.

Impact

It was estimated that 70% of the clams in Rio de Burgo bay were killed by deposits of oil. The same goes for mussels and oysters. Flora and fauna in the affected area took several years to regain normal growth patterns (damages estimated at 2.25 million Euros).
The Spanish government was held liable for the incident. The response expenses and economic losses were estimated at 70 million Euros.

Last update: 04/05/2011

External links

NOAA: details about the accident, history, oil slick behaviour, actions undertaken...