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Accident date
Accident area
Ambès, Gironde, France
Spill area
Inland waters
Cause of spill
Storage tank rupture
Nature of pollutant
Aquitaine crude oil
Quantity spilled
13,500 m3 in total, 50 m3 in the river
Ship / structure type
Storage tank

The incident

On 12 January 2007 at 8 a.m., a crude oil storage tank belonging to the Canadian company Vermilion Emeraude Rep, located in Ambès (Gironde, France) on the oil storage depot operated by the Société Pétrolière du Bec d’Ambès (SPBA) gave way.

The entire contents of the tank, 13,500 m3 of Aquitaine crude oil, were suddenly released, creating a wave effect causing some 2,000 m3 of oil to spill over the top of the retention tank.


Impact of the spill

A large part of the oil flowed into the drainage system, and then ran into the settler, meaning that the pumps used to transfer the settled water into the natural environment had to be immediately stopped.



 A small part of the oil flowed out of the depot to pollute, on the eastward side, nearly 2 km of marshland trenches and channels, deeply infiltrating into the ground and reaching the water table. On the westward side, the pollution reached a main road and the river Garonne. On the south side, the oil spread over the ground and deeply through channels, it crossed over the main road where most of it was then contained in a parapet along the Garonne. A limited quantity however spilt over the parapet and slightly polluted the upper part of the bank.



Around 50 m3 flowed into the river as the tide was beginning to rise. The slick mainly remained contained along the right bank, but moved up the bank as the tide came in. Sheen was observed as far as the bridge of Aquitaine some 12 km upstream. When the tide changed, the slick began to drift downstream, to reach the “Bec d’Ambès”, where the Garonne and the Dordogne rivers meet).

On 13 January, traces of pollutant were observed over 20 km downstream of the depot as well as on the Dordogne. The following tides caused 40 km of embankments of the Garonne, the Dordogne and the Gironde rivers to be polluted. The most heavily polluted 10 km were the right banks of the Garonne and the Gironde.


Some oiled birds were reported during the first surveys carried out on the river, but the Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO) did not attest to any particular impact on the avifauna. A few dead coypu were also reported. In the marshland channels, traces indicated that wild boars had been wading though the oil, spreading it as they went. No particular impact was reported however by environmental associations or hunters.


Legal proceedings

On 13th October, the attorney general of Bordeaux criminal court called for a €30,000 fine for SPBA and a €5,000 fine for the company's former Managing Director. The main question addressed during the hearing focused on the decision made by the former Managing Director when he discovered an initial leak from this tank on 11th January 2007. The parties claiming civil damages (environmental, flora and fauna protection associations, as well as the municipality of Macau) criticised him for not having drained the tank as soon as the leak was noticed. SPBA's and the former Managing Director's lawyers requested an acquittal, maintaining that there had been no offence. The court is under deliberation and the decision has been deferred until 17th November 2014. DPA and its former Director, are both acquitted in December 2014.

In October 2016, the Bordeaux Court of Appeal found DPA guilty but deemed the damage claims inadmissible (commune of Macau and associations ASPAS, LPO and SEPANSO Gironde). These parties took the case to the Supreme Court which annulled it, on 16th January 2018, but only for the damage claims and legal costs claimed by these parties.

On 6th June 2019, a new case was opened before the Bordeaux Court of Appeal, for which the decision has been deferred until 26th September 2019.

Last update on 04/07/2019

See also

Inland Waters Technical Newsletter, 2014, n°22

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