- Accident date
- Accident area
- La Voulte-sur-Rhône, Ardèche
- Spill area
- Inland waters
- Cause of spill
- Quantity transported
- 2, 200 m³
- Nature of pollutant
- Ship / structure type
On 18 January 2004 at 6:30 am, a CFT river convoy was travelling up the river from Fos-sur-Mer to Lyon, when it hit a pillar of the rail bridge which crosses the Rhone at La Voulte. The convoy was made up of two barges, one transporting containers and the other 2200 m3 of liquid benzene. The flooded push tug began to sink. Of the five crew members onboard, one lost his life, while the four others managed to reach the container barge before the push tug sank.
A number of leaks of benzene were detected onboard the barge Annemasse, which grounded on the lefthand bank of the river, facing La Voulte's town centre. An exclusion area of 300 m around the vessel was established. A mobile response centre and a crisis unit were then set up. Gas transportation via a pipeline within the rail bridge was stopped.
A 3 tier plan of action was established. First, the container barge the Bourgogone was to be moved offsite. Secondly, the contents of the barge carrying benzene, the Annemasse, were to be transferred to another barge with nitrogen inerting. Finally, the Annemasse was to be evacuated from the area. As a precautionary measure, during the removal of benzene from the barge, 500 inhabitants of the region surrounding the river were evacuated.
The barge, emptied of the cargo of benzene, was then towed upstream by three bulldozers and two push tugs. The ambiant temperature, which was above benzene's melting point, did not prevent the pumping of the liquid benzene.
Positive factors were the favourable, stable weather conditions and the fact that the Annemasse was double-hulled, together with good collaboration between services. However, the massive arrival of often incoherent information proved confusing for decision-makers and the lack of a specialised contingency plan for river transportation of hazardous materials did not improve the situation.
The duration of the operation was dependent on the availability of private, specialised means and the time taken to transport them to the site. This incident led to a review of the departmental safety management and risk analysis policies and to the creation of a specialised contingency plan.