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Donges Refinery

Donges Refinery
Accident date
Accident area
Donges, Loire-Atlantique
Spill area
Cause of spill
Nature of pollutant
Heavy fuel oil (IFO 380)
Quantity spilled
400 tonnes (estimation)
Ship / structure type

The incident

On Sunday 16 March 2008, a pipe leak caused a spill of an estimated 400 tonnes of heavy fuel oil (IFO 380) during the loading of a vessel at Donges Refinery, Loire-Atlantique, France.
Cedre was mobilised on the afternoon of 16 March. Three technical advisers were immediately sent onsite to carry out pollution reconnaissance and to make recommendations on appropriate clean-up techniques.



On 19 March, an environmental assessment unit, composed of experts from various backgrounds, was set up at the Préfecture on 19 March to provide advice on response operations and set up scientific monitoring. The group included specialised agents from many different domains such as the protection of birds, veterinary medicine, maritime affairs and ecological organisations (National Office for Hunting and Wildlife, GIP Loire-Estuaire, Bretagne Vivante, LPO 44 (League for the Protection of Birds), Ifremer, the Botanic Conservatory of Brest, Bio-Littoral (environmental survey of rivers and estuaries), Nantes Veterinary School, DDASS, DDE, DIREN, Maritime Affairs and Cedre).



Recovery operations at sea and in the estuary were promptly organised. The recovery vessel Argonaute was mobilised at the mouth of the Loire River with a trawl net. Two trawlers collected tar balls in the estuary. Several pollution response booms were set up, especially to protect streams.
On 17 March, the French Minister of Ecology, Energy, Sustainable Development and Planning visited the site to assess the situation. He announced that Total would cover all the damages and expenses caused.
Almost 750 people (civil security, fire service and private service providers) were rapidly mobilised to clean up the river banks. The waste collected was centralised and treated at Donges Refinery.
Several meetings were held between professionals from the area (shellfish collectors, salt marsh workers, eel fishermen…) and Total in order to define the procedure of listing the damages.



On 17 March, a ban was introduced on sea fishing, by both professionals and amateurs, as well as on marine culture activities and the sale of aquaculture produce. Ifremer and the French Department of Health were put in charge of regularly sampling shellfish in order to monitor any possible contamination. The ban was partially lifted on 4 April 2008 for professional and pleasure fishing from boats off the estuary. The ban on other forms of fishing and on shellfish collection was lifted on 17 April for the seashore and on 18 April for the river banks.
Observations conducted by the ONCFS and LPO showed that the proportion of oiled birds decreased as the response operations advanced. A count of birds affected was carried out.
Deposits of oil were reported on the agricultural ground bordering the Loire river. Usually these pasturing grounds are used from April onwards. Toxicological experts from the Veterinary School of Nantes were consulted in order to determine when the animals could return to their pastures.


Cedre’s missions

Factual information on response operations and opinions on the impacts are available on the websites listed below. The text below therefore focuses on Cedre’s involvement.
Cedre’s involvement is ensured by rotating the personnel onsite (4 people permanently present) with support from the Reponse Centre in Brest collects and processes the information and draws up maps and summaries.
Cedre has been carrying out onsite surveys, identifying polluted areas and producing reports and technical notes. They are participating in the group of environmental experts concerning the response options to implement and the impact study. At the clean-up sites, they have been providing operational advice on the response techniques to use in order to preserve the fragile areas of the estuary (banks, streams, mudflats, reed beds).
Samples were sent to Cedre’s laboratory for analysis of the pollutant. In this way, the oil washed up on the shoreline of the Vendée and Charente regions was identified as that from the refinery, confirming the results of backtrack drift simulations conducted by Météo France.
 The Attorney General of Nantes also called upon Cedre to conduct analyses for legal purposes.
Furthermore, Cedre has been replying to many questions from journalists on the technical aspects related to the spill.


The damages are to be assessed by a consultancy firm based in Nantes, commissioned by Total in order to assess the damages incurred. Four groups of marine-related occupations have been identified: fishing from a boat, professional shellfish collecting, shellfish breeding and fish merchants. Around 200 businesses related to sea fishing and marine cultures are concerned by these actions.


The Prefect decided to create a “Local Information and Monitoring Commission” for the Loire estuary to examine the measures required to protect the estuary in the event of a pollutant release. All of the estuary's stakeholders (State services, local councillors, companies involved in economic and industrial activities, nature conservation associations) were involved in the commission.  The first meeting was held in mid-May.

Legal proceedings

A trial took place at Saint-Nazaire criminal court from 4th to 6th October 2011. Around twenty parties claiming civil damages formed including a dozen associations (France Nature Environnement, Eaux et rivières de Bretagne, SOS Loire vivante, Bretagne vivante, Fondation pour la protection des habitants et de la faune sauvage…), Vendée General Council and Pays-de-la-Loire Regional Council.

The associations called for between €20,000 and €50,000 for non-economic losses and ecological damages, Vendée General Council €150,000 and Pays-de-la-Loire Regional Council €100,000.

In total, the prosecutor thus called for a €300,000 fine for the French oil group Total, accused of a pollution offence.

In January 2012, Total Raffinage Marketing, a Total group subsidiary responsible for Donges Refinery, was fined €300,000, to be paid in damages to around twenty parties of claimants, by the court of first instance, for "negligence" on two accounts in terms of risk prevention, however the ecological damages claim was rejected by the court.

A number of the claimants, notably the Amis des Collectifs Marée Noire and the Ligue de Protection des Oiseaux, decided to appeal, in a bid to have the ecological damages caused by the pollution recognised.

On 27th September 2013, following the hearing held on 14th June 2013, the Rennes Court of Appeal confirmed Total's conviction but dismissed the claims of LPO and the Amis des Collectifs Marée Noire.

However for the first time, the Court of Appeal recognised associations' right to claim for ecological damages. The Court of Appeal considered nevertheless that LPO had not provided evidence of the damages suffered as it had not produced an exhaustive record of the number of birds affected. The judges therefore established the principle of admissibility of LPO's claim for ecological damage, but did not accept the method used to measure this damage. LPO contested this judgement and appealed to the supreme court on 1st October 2013.

Last update on 11/09/2014

See also

Laura d'Amato, Date: 03/08/1999, Location: Australia

Trans-Alaska pipeline, Date: 04/10/2001, Location: USA

External links

Ifremer, Photos

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