- Flinterstar/Al Oraiq
- Accident date
- Accident area
- off Zeebrugge
- Spill area
- Cause of spill
- Product transported
- steel, IFO 380 and diesel
- Quantity transported
- 3,000 tonnes of steel, 430 tonnes of IFO 380 and 115 tonnes of diesel
- Nature of pollutant
- IFO 380 and diesel
- Quantity spilled
- 100 tonnes of IFO 380 and 100 tonnes of diesel
- Ship / structure type
- Cargo vessel
- Built date
- 129 m
- 17 m
- 5.8 m
- The Netherlands
On 6th October 2015, the LNG carrier Al Oraiq collided with the cargo vessel Flinterstar off Zeebrugge (Belgium) in a very busy shipping area, at the crossroads of the North Sea traffic separation schemes and the access channels to the ports of Zeebrugge and Antwerp. While the LNG carrier was able to enter the port of Zeebrugge for inspection, the damaged bulk carrier grounded and sank on a shallow sand bank 5.3 nautical miles from the coast. It was carrying 3,000 tonnes of steel and contained around 430 tonnes of heavy fuel oil (IFO 380) and 115 tonnes of diesel in its bunker tanks.
The 11 crew members and the pilot were rapidly evacuated and Belgium triggered its national contingency plan for the North Sea, with an exclusion zone set up around the wreck for shipping safety. The spill was monitored and assessed by aerial and satellite surveillance, sampling and drift and behaviour forecasting using the Belgian model OSERIT.
Oil recovery at sea
From the very beginning of the incident up until the end of recovery operations on the water and oil
removal operations from the vessel's bunker tanks, which lasted a month, a continuous leak of a mixture of heavy fuel oil and diesel could be seen, whose intensity and appearance varied (sheen and/or streaks) according to the hydroclimatic conditions and the gradual breakdown of the wreck's structure. Based on aerial surveys and the results of recovery and pumping operations, it was estimated that around 200 tonnes of fuel (at least half of which was IFO 380) had been released into the environment.
The possibility of chemical dispersion was rejected from the outset due to the shallow depths in the area, which would not have be conducive to rapid dilution of the dispersed droplets, bearing in mind that this was a fishing area. The chosen strategy was mechanical recovery, which was rapidly implemented to reduce the quantity of oil liable to reach the coast, which comprised sensitive sites.
Initial attempts to contain and recover the slicks by trawling booms and deploying skimmers proved to be of limited efficiency due to the rough conditions, currents and the relatively high level of spreading of the diesel and heavy fuel oil mixture.
The Belgian authorities then requested help from the Netherlands, which mobilised the oil spill response vessel Arca and the dredger Interballast I, soon joined by the workboat Hebo-Cat 7. In total, at least 50 m3 of oil was recovered on the water by these vessels, which remained mobilised under the coordination of the authorities until the end of lightering operations, for which specialised companies (Multraship and Smit Salvage) were contracted by the operator and mobilised their own resources.
These lightering operations were hampered by strong tidal currents which impeded the work of the divers and had to be suspended several times due to adverse sea and weather conditions. Pumping operations were completed three weeks after the incident, resulting in the removal of 400 m3 of oil from the vessel, of which 350m3 were put back on the market after settling.
In France, the maritime authority for the Channel and North Sea mobilised aircraft and vessels for surveillance . The VN Sapeur and the patrol vessel Pluvier were kept on site until the end of oil removal operations with CEPPOL experts on board.
Removal of the shipwreck
Given the navigational hazard the wreck represented, it had to be removed. As the shipowner of the Flinterstar had taken steps to abandon thewreck, the Belgian authorities sought judicial intervention. On 22nd February 2016, the shipowner was ordered to remove the wreck which, in between times, had broken in two. A major wreck removal operation was prepared by a consortium of 4 salvage companies (Scaldis SMC, Dredging International, Herbosch-Kiere and Jan De Nul), and lasted throughout the following summer: the two sections of the wreck were removed from the water in turn and transported by sea to the port of Gand, where they were delivered, together with the cargo of metal parts, to a scrapyard approved for metal recovery and recycling.
The incident area was declared "free of all debris in compliance with the criteria defined by the authorities" following side scan sonar surveys carried out in September 2016.
Arrivals on the shoreline
In compliance with forecasts by drift models, produced daily by the Belgian authorities and Météo-France, very limited quantities of micro-tarballs washed up at a few sites along the shoreline. With the changes in wind direction and the ebb and flow of the tides, the shores of the Netherlands and Belgium were hit. Light deposits along a 4-km stretch between Ostend and Knokke-Le-Zoute, triggered manual recovery operations. On the northern coast of France, a few hundred metres of beaches affected in mid-October by sparsely scattered micro-tarballs in the Dunkirk and Oye-Plage area.
As a preventive measure, a sand wall was built to protect the Zwin nature reserve (Belgium and the Netherlands). In France, the authorities launched systematic surveys of the coastline from Gravelines to the Belgian which did not reveal any further strandings.
The preventive provisions for caring for any oiled birds fortunately proved unnecessary. Few oiled birds were reported, thanks to favourable weather conditions and to the fact that the greatest bird populations were still further north along the Dutch coastline.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) concentrations were measured in fish, benthic fauna and sediment during the two monitoring programmes carried out the first week after the incident then in late October. They did not reveal any increase in the level of PAHs following the incident.
Cedre was called upon by the Management Unit of the North Sea Mathematical Models (MUMM) of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) to perform analyses to characterise fuel samples. Cedre was also called by the French authorities to confirm the similarity between the tarballs collected on the French coastline and the bunker fuel from the Flinterstar.
Anon, 2016. The Flinterstar Incident. Document OTSOPA 16/8/Info.1 presented by Belgium at the Meeting of the Bonn Agreement Working Group on Operational, Technical and Scientific Questions concerning Counter Pollution Activities (OTSOPA), held at Scheveningen, The Netherlands, 24-26 May 2016. 11 pp.