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Albion II

Albion II
Accident date
Accident area
60 miles from Brest, Finistère
Spill area
Cause of spill
Structural damage
Quantity transported
114 tonnes
Nature of pollutant
Calcium carbide
Ship / structure type
Bulk carrier
Built date
178 m
23 m

The silent sinking of the bulk carrier Albion II with its 25 crew members on board, presumed to be on 18th February 1997, 60 miles off the coast from the city of Brest (Brittany), raised the issue of assessing the risk generated by the reactive chemicals transported.

The ship had left Antwerp on 15th February 1997 bound for Jamaica carrying a cargo of metal beams. After reporting to the French Maritime Rescue Maritime Coordination Centre CROSS Corsen on 17th February as it was passing the tip of Finistère, it was never heard from again. The shipowner contacted Falmouth MRCC on 5th March when the ship did not arrive on the expected date. A search appeal was launched and a Danish trawler reported having detected a large unmapped object on the seabed with its echo-sounder, 70 miles south-west of Ushant Island on 18th February. The investigations conducted by the French Navy later confirmed that this was indeed the Albion II. The wreck lies 120 m deep.

Risks relating to the cargo

The presence of calcium carbide (114 tonnes packaged in approximately 500 barrels of 50 kg and 800 barrels of 100 kg) meant a risk of explosion. This product spontaneously reacts with water to produce acetylene, a flammable gas (10 kg of calcium carbide gives off 3 to 4 m³ of acetylene). The information obtained suggests that the barrels would be unable to resist the pressure at such depth. It is therefore highly likely that the metal had been pierced and that water had infiltrated into the barrels and gas had been released.  The risk of calcium carbide-filled barrels being caught in the nets of passing fishing boats, which would mean a sudden release of inflammable gas when brought to the surface, was therefore a highly unlikely hypothesis. However, it could not be totally ruled out and ships were advised to be extremely carefully when trawling next to the wreck.

Legal proceedings

An initial criminal court case for voluntary manslaughter began in 2003 at a court in Athens. However this case did not come to completion, as the wife of the Chief Mate withdrew the charges.

Legal action was resumed five years later by the Mediator of the Hellenic Republic based on infringement of maritime safety rules, which is a crime in the Greek criminal code. The Mediator also highlighted the lack of compensation received by the families, despite various rulings having awarded them compensation. (€4.9 M)

After 17 years of legal battles, the verdict was pronounced in mid-June 2014, the Greek shipowner Panagiotis Lemos was given a 15-year prison sentence by the criminal court of appeal in Piraeus, Greece. The proceedings highlighted the overall poor condition of the vessel, built in 1976 in Japan (high corrosion and incomplete repairs made in India).


- Le marin

Last update on 08/02/2007

External links

CIIMAR database:  fate and weathering of Hazardous and Noxious Substances (HNS) involved

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