On 11th June 2021, at around midday, oil pollution was spotted in the Mediterranean Sea during an exercise conducted by Solenzara Air Base, in eastern Corsica. The pollution was confirmed by a French Navy Falcon 50. Two separate slicks each around 35 km long were seen 9 km off the eastern coast, in the Aléria and Solenzara area.
Based on images analysed jointly by Cedre and Ceppol, it was concluded that this was heavy fuel oil. Samples were taken from the slick. The pollution appears to be due to illegal discharge. Due to the size of the slicks and the nature of the oil, natural dilution would not suffice to eliminate the oil, and specialised spill response personnel and equipment was therefore required.
Aircraft and vessels were rapidly mobilised by the authorities (Maritime Prefect for the Mediterranean in coordination with the Prefectures of Haute-Corse and Corse-du-Sud) and included:
- in the north, the chartered support and assistance vessel Jason, with spill response equipment on board, including a trawl system, and a Maritime Affairs boat, Mimosa, with a trawl system,
- in the centre, a French Customs boat with a trawl system,
- in the south, a tug, Altagna, with a trawl system, and the chartered support and assistance vessel Pionnier, with spill response equipment on board, two helicopters, a Puma and a Dragon 2A, and a Falcon 50 plane.
On the 12th, the Prefect of Haute-Corse activated the shoreline maritime pollution contingency plan (POLMAR-Terre). Following shoreline surveys conducted by military police and firefighters, tarballs were recovered from several beaches, including that of Solenzara. Some 25 km of beaches were closed to the public as of Saturday 12th as a precautionary measure.
The slicks were drifting southwards and gradually fragmenting. Oil recovery operations by trawling were implemented, guided by aircraft from which oil reconnaissance at the sea surface was conducted. By the 13th, some four tonnes of oil had been recovered in the area.
On the 13th, the ban on fishing was lifted for Haute-Corse, but remained in place for the waters of Corse-du-Sud.
Cedre was mobilised by the Prefecture of Ajaccio during the night of Sunday 13th June. Two experts from Cedre arrived in Porto-Vecchio on 15th June and conducted their first onshore and inshore surveys the same day.
On the 14th, the spokesperson for the Maritime Prefecture for the Mediterranean indicated that “the majority of the slick has been recovered but we are unable to say how much is left and how much may reach the coastline”, and noted “the presence of increasingly fine particles that are increasingly difficult to detect by plane”.
The bulk of the oil spotted off Corsica had been recovered by Tuesday 15th in the afternoon and the beaches were reopened in the north of the island, while the beaches in the south, in particular in Porto-Vecchio and Bonifacio, remained at risk.
The offshore, onshore and aerial response arrangements were maintained in order to detect any further deposits as quickly as possible.
An inquiry has been opened by the court of Marseille and is conducted by the French military police.
Press releases from the Préfecture maritime de la Méditerranée (French only).
Press releases from the Préfecture de Haute-Corse (French only)
Press releases from the Préfecture de Corse-du-Sud (French only)