As soon as the news of the incident was received, on 12 December, Cedre moved into emergency mode.
The response centre was activated and the agreement with Météo France implemented for slick drift forecasts.
Several technical advisers were then seconded to the command centre at the Maritime Prefecture, then to each of the onshore command centres as soon as the departmental contingency plans were activated. Cedre's response centre in Brest was tasked with assisting our advisers present in the command centres, liaising between the French Navy and Météo France and informing the authorities through daily situation summaries.
During the night of 12 to 13 December, 200 litres of fuel oil n°6 from the same batch loaded onto the Erika arrived from the TotalFinaElf Flandres refinery, in Dunkirk. Behaviour and weathering tests were launched in our flume tank. Our documentation department was tasked with gathering detailed information on similar incidents and on response resources.
Cedre exchanged information with its foreign partners and the European Union. Technical discussions took place with IOPC Fund experts.
In terms of onshore assistance, 8 to 12 of our technical advisers were permanently based in command centres and at different sites along the shoreline. Technical summaries of the situation were produced daily by our response centre. In order answer the many questions we were receiving and in response to the considerable increase in the number of visitors to our website, a special section dedicated to the Erika spill was created. Experiments, tests and qualifications of response products and equipment were carried out both at our technical facilities and on site.
However, we also faced three issues that are unavoidable in such situations:
- requests for information from the authorities which required faster, more frequent and highly personalised replies;
- a surge of media attention, with more than 50 journalists contacting Cedre on a daily basis. Who other than Cedre could answer their technical questions?
- And finally, the influx of inventors, suppliers and industry-related professionals (more than 600) all demanding priority and personalised processing of their proposals. Faced with these issues, we called upon assistance from the French Petroleum Institute (IFP), IFREMER and the European Union.
An initial analysis revealed two findings:
- Cedre’s geographical coverage was insufficient for this spill. Our workforce was too small to accomplish our mission for so many command centres activated simltaneously;
- Cedre’s media coverage was insufficient for this spill. The work conducted over the past twenty years and our emergency response capacity did not meet public expectations.
Such limitations were no surprise. When concluding the scientific conference entitled "20 years after the Amoco Cadiz” held in Brest in October 1998, Cedre's Director declared: "We know that the risk is permanent and that we do not have the perfect answer to everything. No matter what we do to prevent an incident, to be better prepared, to improve the response management, some observers will not understand that there are limits to our powers, others will criticise what we do and explain afterwards what we should have done".
Despite these difficulties, Cedre carried on with its mission. This was underlined in the report of the Erika Inquiry Committee of the National Assembly by the following words: "The Inquiry Committee would like to pay tribute to the quality of the work accomplished by this small association, in spite of its modest its resources” (p. 335 - Après l'Erika, l'urgence - Tome 1 - rapport - Les documents d'information de l'Assemblée Nationale).