Damaged tanker checked for pollution risk

31st January 2006, Comments 0 comments

CHERBOURG, France, Jan 31, 2006 (AFP) - Divers were Tuesday to inspect the hull of a chemical tanker badly damaged in an overnight collision in the English Channel to assess pollution risks, French maritime authorities said.

CHERBOURG, France, Jan 31, 2006 (AFP) - Divers were Tuesday to inspect the hull of a chemical tanker badly damaged in an overnight collision in the English Channel to assess pollution risks, French maritime authorities said.

The tanker, loaded with phosphoric acid, was listing badly to one side following the early morning accident, but both French and British maritime authorities have so far ruled out any risk of large-scale ocean pollution.

A British coastguard boat and Royal Air Force helicopter evacuated the tanker's 22 crew members from the accident site to a hospital on the British island of Guernsey, according to an RAF officer.

All were described as "safe and well" by authorities in the northern French port of Cherbourg.

The Marshall Islands-registered tanker, carrying 10,000 tonnes of phosphoric acid, collided with a Maltese-registered cargo loaded with 26,000 tonnes of phosphorus, in international waters at around 3am.

"The chemical tanker has stabilised with a 25 degree list to the port side, and can no longer move under its own power," a spokesman for the maritime prefecture, Yann Bizien, told a news conference.

Rescue teams were waiting for the ship to fully stabilise before deciding whether to tow it to shore, he said.

"At this point, no pollution has been observed," he said, adding that divers would inspect the tanker's hull later Tuesday to try to determine the causes of the collision and its possible environmental impact.

A five-man team of French navy experts was aboard the ship to prepare the dive.

There were no reports of serious damage to the bulk carrier, which had 21 crew members on board.

A British coastguard official earlier said that the chemical tanker had been "significantly damaged" and was leaking phosphoric acid, but that the soluble liquid did not pose a pollution threat.

Bizien also said the chemical "does not pose a threat to the environment except at high concentrations."

Phosphoric acid in large quantities can pose a minor risk to aquatic organisms, according to environmental websites, but its toxicity decreases greatly when dissolved in water.

It is used in preparing phosphates for fertilisers, in rust-proofing metals, and as a flavouring in soft drinks.

Choppy seas, with waves of up to 2.5m and winds of up to 40km per hour, were reported at the time of the accident, some 90km west of Cherbourg, but did not hamper the rescue effort.

Sergeant Tim Dickinson, of the RAF's rescue coordination centre, described it as "a textbook rescue operation".

"We were very fortunate because the sea conditions were benign," he told the BBC.

The 198-metre cargo ship the General Grot Rowecki, built in 1985, was headed for Poland's Baltic Sea port of Police, while the 126-metre tanker, the Ece, built in 1988, was bound for Ghent in Belgium.

A French fishing trawler sank early this month, with the loss of five crew members, after colliding with a cargo ship in the same sector of the English Channel. An investigation is under way into the causes of the accident.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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