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Accident date
Accident area
Cies Islands, Vigo Bay, Galicia
Spill area
Cause of spill
Quantity transported
49, 400 tonnes
Nature of pollutant
Arabian light crude oil
Quantity spilled
15, 000 tonnes
Ship / structure type
Oil tanker
Built date
217.84 m
29.6 m

On 5 May 1970, the Norwegian oil tanker Polycommander was travelling from Sidon (Lebanon) to Donges (France) when it had to be rerouted to Vigo (Galicia) to drop off an ill passenger. The vessel grounded on a reef while attempting to enter the port.

15,000 tonnes of light Arabian crude oil were spilt at sea and went on fire due to sparks from the exhaust line of a passing fishing boat.  For over 30 hours, the Polycommander was devastated by a fire and several explosions. The crew and the few passengers onboard were all safely evacuated in time.

Foam was applied to extinguish the fire and dispersant was simultaneously spread on the oil slick from aircraft and tugs. The use of plastic floating booms proved ineffective.

The heat generated by this terrible fire led to air movements causing the smoke and volatile fractions to rise high into the atmosphere. They then settled on certain villages located inland, covering them in a black film. Tar balls and patties arrived on the Spanish shores, polluting 5 km of coastline.

The wreck of the Polycommander was refloated on 26 July 1970. The breach was plugged in a makeshift fashion to be able to tow the vessel to Piraeus (Greece) where more thorough repairs were made. After complete renovation, the Polycommander became operational again.

The damages were estimated at 480,000 dollars in the 1970s. In parallel, a Spanish court condemned the captain of the Polycommander and his second officer, despite a manifest error on behalf of the Spanish pilot.


- Banque de données sur les accidents de navire ayant provoqué un déversement de pétrole en mer supérieur à 500 tonnes - Volume II - 1970-1974, Janvier 1979, Institut Français du Pétrole
- HOOKE, Norman, 1997, Maritime Casualties 1963-1996, second edition, LLP Limited, London
- MOSTERT N., 1974, Les super-tankers - Menace sur les océans, Editions Robert Laffont, Paris
- VAN GELDER-OTTWAY S. and KNIGHT M., A review of world oil spillages 1960-1975, 1976, Marine ecology and oil pollution
- BERTRAND A.R.V., Principaux accidents de pollution en mer, septembre 1971, Revue de l'Institut Français du Pétrole
- Secrétariat général de la Défense nationale, Les accidents de pétroliers et la lutte contre les marées noires en mer, 20 avril 1976, Bulletin particulier de renseignement scientifique et technique
- POWELL D.G. etal., Report on the Polycommander accident, 17 juin 1970, Rapport ESSO
- Oil pollution division of Warren springs laboratory, Clearance of oil pollution: technical and administrative matters, Newsletter n°8

Last update on 26/01/2010
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