- CSL Virginia
- Accident date
- International waters (north of Corsica)
- Accident area
- Cap Corse
- Spill area
- Cause of spill
- Nature of pollutant
- Fioul de propulsion
- Quantity spilled
- 550 m³
- Ship / structure type
- Container ship
- Built date
- South Korea
- 294.16 m
- 22.1 m
- 13.65 m
- Duraven Shipping Company Ltd of Cyprus
- IMO number
At dawn on 7th October 2018, around 15 nautical miles north of Cap Corse, in international waters, the ro-ro vessel Ulysse, bound for Radès (Tunis), rammed into the starboard side of the unladen Cyprus-flagged container ship CSL Virginia, at anchor at the time. Very soon after the collision, bunker fuel spilled out of one of the damaged tanks of the CSL Virginia and into the sea. The fuel drifted in a north-westerly direction. No deaths or injuries were reported.
On 8th October, the highest level of the French maritime emergency management system was activated by the Maritime Prefect for the Mediterranean. A crisis management team was set up to implement the strategic response to the incident as well as a response management team. The Maritime Prefect also requested the activation of the RAMOGEPOL Plan.
The maritime authorities rapidly ordered an inspection of the vessels involved to evaluate the options for extricating and salvaging them: a French Navy assessment and response team was airlifted onto the CSL Virginia. A study to assess how best to separate the two vessels was launched on 8th October and an order and navigational warning were issued. Following three attempts to disentangle the Ulysse, on the evening of 11th October the vessel moved backwards and “spontaneously” separated from the container ship due to wave action and the effect of both vessels’ continuous movements. The Ulysse set sail for Tunisia to be repaired.
Response operations at sea started the same day. In addition to the rapidly mobilised French response effort, composed of tugs (Abeille Flandre and Altagna) and oil spill response vessels (Jason and Ailette) with support from Ceppol, Italian vessels were sent on site (first Nos Taurus sent from Livorno, Bonassola sent from Genoa, and Koral sent from Sardinia), followed by Brezzamare from the EMSA spill response fleet. A containment boom was deployed around the breach in the CSL Virginia.
The sea state (initially slight) deteriorated over the days following the incident, causing the fuel oil to disseminate, drifting in more or less fragmented strings and patches over an area several tens of nautical miles long and preventing effective containment and recovery of the oil. The largest oil slicks were monitored by aerial surveys on a near-daily basis, conducted according to the weather conditions which were not improving, and buoys were deployed to help track their movements. During the days following the incident, due to very rough seas, new leaks of oil seeped out of the container ship’s damaged tank.
Other tugs reinforced the response effort: Rablé, Chambon Bora, Taape, VB Crau, and VB Rhône. The fragmented nature of the slicks meant that surface nets and weir skimmers could be used to facilitate recovery on the water.
Offshore oil recovery efforts continued until 12th November.
This large-scale offshore response mobilised over 500 people (comprising a total of over 96,000 hours of work), up to 41 vessels (French and Italian) and 13 aircraft: helicopters, planes and drones (Italian and French, including French Navy and Customs). The deployment of these resources resulted in the recovery of the majority of the oil at sea, but part of it nonetheless washed up on the French Mediterranean shores.
On 16th October the first tarballs washed up on the shores of the Var.
On 12th October, operations began to remove the oil remaining in the leaking tank of the CSL Virginia.
Cedre was first called upon on 8th October and provided expertise by dispatching one of its members who joined the crisis management team. Furthermore, through its agreement with Météo-France, Cedre activated the offshore oil slick drift forecast model MOTHY in order to advise the authorities on oil recovery at sea and to predict the potential arrival of the oil on the shores. Cedre studied the behaviour of this bunker fuel in its Polludrome®. This fuel oil is close to an IFO 180. It partially evaporates, rapidly emulsifies (up to 50% water in the final mixture) and drifts, sometimes subsurface, making recovery operations at sea more difficult.
On 16th October, Pampelonne beach in Ramatuelle, in the Var area, was oiled. The same day, the Var Prefect activated the POLMAR onshore contingency plan. Under his authority, the first surveys were conducted and shoreline clean-up sites were set up by the local authorities, fire brigades, civil protection and the military police. An incident command post was set up in Ramatuelle and comprised various departments and services (DREAL, DDTM, SDIS...), as well as local crisis management stakeholders. Over time, more than 10 communes in the Var area, which was the worst hit, were affected.
These first responders were replaced before the end of October by the specialised contractor Le Floch Dépollution commissioned by the P&I Clubs of the vessels involved, who also called upon ITOPF’s expertise. The progress and verification of the work conducted by Le Floch Dépollution remained under the authority of the State.
A few beaches in the Bouches-du-Rhône area were oiled in early November.
The oil spread extensively due to the many viscous patches and tarballs which emulsified at sea and which, over a number of days, under the influence of the currents, discontinuously contaminated a long stretch of coastline in the Var area, between the communes of Sainte-Maxime and Hyères. Furthermore, the weather conditions (high easterly winds together with swell and breaking waves), during the clean-up phase, caused the oil to be remobilised and redistributed along the beaches, meaning that new surveys had to be conducted to locate this oil and promptly recover it to prevent further spread.
Various factors slowed the progress of clean-up operations, in particular socio-economic and environmental criteria. The beaches in the Gulf of Saint-Tropez for instance are popular with tourists and other sites have a protection status such as the "Corniche varoise” Marine Protected Area, Port-Cros National Park and sites managed by the Conservatoire du Littoral (French coastal protection agency) in several communes (Saint-Tropez, Ramatuelle, La Croix-Valmer...). The clean up work was slow, fastidious and had to be carried out carefully to prevent causing greater harm to the environment. The type of sites affected slowed clean-up, as the shoreline is very often steep and difficult to access, composed of many small steep-sided coves and high, steep cliffs.
Extensive manual waste sorting operations were conducted at numerous sites in order to optimise the selectivity of clean-up, with uncontaminated debris being left on site.
Around 150 responders were recruited locally to carry out clean-up, which involved a wide range of techniques:
- manual collection, sometimes with lightweight tools (forks, scoops, rakes...);
- underwater agitation;
- scraping and scrubbing of boulders, headlands, cliff sides;
- pressure washing using seawater;
- the use of helicopters to deliver equipment and evacuate the collected waste...
During shoreline surveys, no significant impact on the flora or fauna was detected.
By 10th June 2019, 570 m3 of waste had been collected, comprising approximately:
- 100 m3 of emulsified oil;
- 170 m3 of oil combined with oiled seaweed;
- 200 m3 of oiled plant debris;
- 50 m3 of oiled litter;
- 50 m3 of oiled sand.
Shoreline operations involved the mobilisation of a large number of responders (nearly 18,800 man-days, for 875 site-days) and a large quantity of equipment, but also considerable efforts in terms of environmental precautions and response to the strong expectations in terms of landscape-related, economic and tourism issues.
On 17th October, at the request of the authorities (Var Prefecture), Cedre agents were sent into the field to conduct surveys of the affected sites. In addition to beaches, numerous rocky shores, which were sometimes difficult to access, were also affected by the pollution. Technical recommendations on clean-up techniques were issued to responders by Cedre’s agents. These recommendations covered personnel safety measures, collection and clean-up procedures, waste management and site restoration. Cedre took part in meetings and situation reviews at the Prefecture or incident command post in Ramatuelle. The Var Prefect also commissioned Cedre to monitor the progress of clean-up operations until the end of onshore operations, initially scheduled for the end of the 1st quarter of 2019 but later pushed back to the beginning of summer 2019.
Investigation and compensation
In mid-July 2019, the French marine accident investigation office (BEA mer) published its report.The investigation was carried out jointly with the investigation offices of Cyprus, Italy and Tunisia. According to the report:
- the collision between the vessels “is the consequence of a major lack of look-out on board ULYSSE, combined with legal but an unwise anchoring position and a lack of attentive traffic monitoring from CSL VIRGINIA”;
- “The human component was the major factor causing the accident, with a lack of appreciation of the responsibilities related to the officer of the watch position. A boredom factor, related to the length of sea-going periods, has certainly had an effect on the involvement of the officers of the watch on board both vessels”;
- “On board both vessels, the use of mobile phone for personal concerns took precedence over the officer of the watch duties, leading to a lack of surface situation monitoring”.
In late November 2018, both vessels’ P&I Clubs decided to set up a Claims Submission Office to handle compensation claims related to this incident. This office, opened in Toulon, centralised all compensation claims from local authorities, professionals and private individuals. In early January 2019, the P&I Clubs estimated that the damage claims would total a maximum of €13.5 million, in addition to shoreline clean-up costs provisionally estimated at around €10 million. Nine months after the collision, the first compensation settlements were made. In October 2019, one year after the incident, certain claims were still being studied; the communes and local authorities of the Var area could receive between €1 and 1.5 million.
Cedre Information Bulletin n° 39, May 2019: "Ulysse/CSL Virginia collision"
Marine Investigation Report by BEA mer "Collision: CSL VIRGINIA struck by ULYSSE on 7 October 2018, off cap Corse"