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Amoco Cadiz

Related subjects Air & Sea transport

Very Large Crude Carrier Amoco Cadiz
Laid down:  ?
Launched: 1974
Fate: Sunk, 16 March 1978
General characteristics
Deadweight tonnage: 233,690 tons
Gross Registered Tonnage: 109,700 tons
Length: 334.02 m (1096 ft)
Beam: 51.06 m (167.5 ft)
Draft: 19.80 m (65.0 ft)
Speed: 15 knots (28 km/h)
Propulsion: 30,400 hp, single screw
Crew complement: 44
Cargo Capacity: 1.6 million barrels (255 million liters) of crude oil
Builder: Astilleros Españoles, Cádiz, Spain
Flag: Liberia

The Amoco Cadiz was a VLCC ( Very Large Crude Carrier), owned by Amoco, that split in two after running aground on Portsall Rocks, three miles off the coast of Brittany (France), on March 16, 1978, resulting at that time in the largest oil spill ever, currently the 5th-largest in history.

Sequence of events

En route from the Persian Gulf to Rotterdam, the Netherlands, via a scheduled stop at Lyme Bay, Great Britain, the ship encountered stormy weather with gale conditions and high seas while in the English Channel. Shortly after breakfast, at around 09:45am, a heavy wave hit the ship's rudder and it was found that she was no longer responding to the helm. This was due to the shearing of Whitworth thread studs in the Hastie four ram steering gear, built under licence in Spain, causing a loss of hydraulic fluid. Attempts to repair the damage were made but proved unsuccessful. While the message "no longer manoeuvrable" and asking other vessels to stand by was transmitted at 10:20am, no call for tug assistance was issued until 11:20am .

The German tug Pacific responded and contacted the Amoco Cadiz at 11:28am, offering assistance under a Lloyds Open Form (see below). It arrived on the scene at 12:20pm, but because of the stormy sea, a tow line was not in place until 2pm and broke off at 4:15pm. Several attempts were made to establish another tow line and the Amoco Cadiz dropped its anchor trying to halt its drift. Finally a successful tow line was in place at 8:55pm. Yet these measures proved incapable of preventing the supertanker from drifting towards the coast because of its huge mass and the Force 10 storm winds.

At 9:04pm, the Amoco Cadiz hit the bottom for the first time, flooding its engines. It grounded again at 9:39pm, this time ripping the hull and starting the oil spill. Its crew was rescued by helicopters of the French Navy at midnight, except the captain and one officer who remain on board until 5am the next morning.

At 10am, March 17, the supertanker broke in two, releasing its entire cargo of 1.6 million barrels. Because of the ongoing storm, it broke again on March 28 and the wreck was later completely destroyed by depth charges from the French Navy.

The wreck of the Amoco Cadiz is located at .

Lloyds Open Form

An argument arose between the captain of the Amoco Cadiz, Pasquale Bardari, and that of the captain of the German Tug Pacific, Hartmut Weinert, on the issue of LOF (Lloyds Open Form). Captain Weinert thought this a classic LOF case, an oil tanker with damage to its steering gear, rough weather and getting closer to the shore by the minute.

Lloyds Open Form is a standard legal document for a proposed salvage operation, a four page long contract published by the famous Lloyds of London. It is called "open" because it is literally open, with no amount of money being stipulated for the salvage job: The sum to be paid is determined later in London by a professional arbitrator. At the top of page one, beneath the title "Salvage Agreement" is a statement of the contract's fundamental premise. "NO CURE - NO PAY!"

The Arbitrator, who is invariably a Queen's Counsel practising at the Admiralty Bar, follows the English law of civil salvage, in determining the salvage award. The values of the ship, its cargo and freight at risk are taken into account when the arbitrator decides what the award should be, together with the extent of the dangers and the difficulty in effecting the salvage. In 1978, the ship and the cargo were valued at about $40 million dollars, so Captain Weinert's company could, in the event of success, have received a large award. Captain Bardari of the Cadiz, on the instructions of his owners, wanted "...towage rate to Lyme Bay."

The argument dragged on from 11:28am when the Pacific first made contact with the Amoco Cadiz until 4:00pm when Captain Bardari finally received approval to accept the LOF from the ship's owners in Chicago. However, this dispute did not delay the salvage operation significantly, because tugging preparations had already started. Captain Weinert was aware that if he were to succeed in bringing the tanker into Lyme Bay, on the English coast, his owners could arrest the ship in the English High Court in pursuit of a claim for salvage.

It was incorrectly reported in the Press at the time that, after long negotiations on financial terms between the ship's captain and the master of a West German tugboat and two unsuccessful towing attempts, the towline finally broke during the argument and the ship drifted on the rocks. This version of events became fixed in the public mind although in fact delay was caused by Captain Bardari of the Amoco Cadiz contacting his owners in Chicago for instructions. The delay in sending a distress message meant that the larger tug Seefalke, which might have been in range an hour earlier, had proceeded out of range by the time the distress call was made.

Oil spill

The Amoco Cadiz and coast of Brittany.
The Amoco Cadiz and coast of Brittany.

The Amoco Cadiz contained 1,604,500 barrels (219,797 tons) of Arabian Light and Iranian Light crude oil. Both are medium weight oils with an API gravity of 34.8. Bunker C is a heavy product with an API of between 7 and 14. But severe weather resulted in the complete breakup of the ship before any oil could be pumped out of the wreck. Therefore its entire cargo of crude oil (cargo which belonged to Shell) spilled into the sea.

A 12-mile long slick and heavy pools of oil were smeared onto 45 miles of the French shoreline by northwesterly winds. Prevailing westerly winds during the following month spread the oil approximately 100 miles east along the coast. One week after the accident, oil had reached Côtes d'Armor.

Oil penetrated the sand on several beaches to a depth of 20 inches. Sub-surface oil separated into two or three layers due to the extensive sand transfer that occurred on the beaches during rough weather. Piers and slips in the small harbors from Porspoder to Brehat Island were covered with oil. Other affected areas included the pink granite rock beaches of Tregastel and Perros-Guirrec, as well as the tourist beaches at Plougasnou. The total extent of oiling one month after the spill included approximately 200 miles of coastline. Beaches of 76 different Breton communities were oiled.

Oil persisted for only a few weeks along the exposed rocky shores that experienced moderate to high wave action. In the areas sheltered from wave action, however, the oil persisted in the form of an asphalt crust for several years.

Environmental impact

Oiled beach in Brittany.
Oiled beach in Brittany.

The isolated location of the grounding and rough seas hampered cleanup efforts for the two weeks following the incident.

As mandated in the " Polmar Plan", the French Navy was responsible for all offshore operations while the Civil Safety Service was responsible for shore cleanup activities. Although the total quantity of collected oil and water reached 100,000 tons, less than 20,000 tons of oil were recovered from this liquid after treatment in refining plants.

The nature of the oil and rough seas contributed to the rapid formation of a "chocolate mousse" emulsification of oil and water. This viscous emulsification greatly complicated the cleanup efforts. French authorities decided not to use dispersants in sensitive areas or the coastal fringe where water depth was less than 50 meters. Had dispersant been applied from the air in the vicinity of the spill source, the formation of mousse may have been prevented.

At the time, the Amoco Cadiz incident resulted in the largest loss of marine life ever recorded from an oil spill. Mortalities of most animals occurred over the two month period following the spill. Two weeks following the accident, millions of dead mollusks, sea urchins, and other bottom dwelling organisms washed ashore.

Diving birds constituted the majority of the nearly 20,000 dead birds that were recovered. The oyster mortality from the spill was estimated at 9,000 tons. Fishermen in the area caught fish with skin ulcerations and tumors.

Some of the fish caught in the area reportedly had a strong taste of petroleum. Although echinoderm and small crustacean populations almost completely disappeared, the populations of many species recovered within a year. Cleanup activities on rocky shores, such as pressure-washing, also caused habitat impacts.

The Amoco Cadiz spill was one of the most studied oil spills in history. Many studies remain in progress. This was the largest recorded spill in history and was the first spill in which estuarine tidal rivers were oiled. No follow-up mitigation existed to deal with asphalt formation and problems that resulted after the initial aggressive cleanup.

Additional erosion of beaches occurred in several places where no attempt was made to restore the gravel that was removed to lower the beach face. Many of the affected marshes, mudflats, and sandy beaches, were low-energy areas. Evidence of oiled beach sediments can still be seen in some of these sheltered areas. Layers of sub-surface oil still remain buried in many of the impacted beaches.

The ship and spill features in one of Steve Forbert's songs about oil pollution.

Legal claims

In 1978, it was estimated to have caused $250 million in damage to fisheries and tourist amenities. The French government presented claims totalling $2 billion to United States courts.

In subsequent legal proceedings in Chicago, United States, the owners of the tug were held to have been completely blameless while France was awarded $120 million from the American oil company Amoco in 1990.

Retrieved from " http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amoco_Cadiz"