The Gruesome Amoco Cadiz Oil Spill Incident

The Amoco Cadiz Oil Spill is one of the worst maritime disasters in human history. The oil tanker ran aground and spilt over 220,000 tonnes of oil, contaminating over 300 km of the European coastline, leading to the largest loss of marine life.

However, how did the Amoco Cadiz Accident happen, and what were its repercussions?

Read this article to find out!

Owned by Amoco Transport Corp, Amoco Cadiz was a VLCC that sailed under the flag of Liberia. 

Launched in 1974, it was 334 m long, 51 m broad and had a drought of 19.8 m. It could sail at 15 knots and accommodate 44 crew members.

However, the supertanker did not have a long career. 

The Amoco Cadiz Grounding

In the early hours of March 16, 1978, the oil tanker was headed to Europe with a cargo of around 220,880 tonnes of crude oil from the Persian Gulf. It was engulfed in strong winds, massive waves and rough seas. 

After being struck by a gigantic wave, the tanker suffered from a jammed rudder when it suddenly tried to turn to avoid another vessel. 

The Captain tried to undertake repairs by shutting down the engine and attaching tugboats, but after multiple failed attempts to stabilise the tanker, it still drifted towards the shore.

Bad weather worsened the situation, and soon, the tanker grounded on Portsall Rocks, near the French coast of Brittany.

The tanker suffered significant damage, and waves broke it into two parts in the following days. By the end of March, it had broken into three pieces, and given the continuing bad weather and the position in which it was stuck, salvage operations became almost impossible, and oil onboard the tanker could not be pumped out.

Ultimately, it was sunk by explosives, and the impact was felt on land more than a mile away.

The Aftermath

The then-President of France, Raymond Barre, said that the oil spill was caused by negligence and barred tankers from sailing within 11 km of the French coastline.

The Master was found guilty of violating France’s pollution regulations. An investigation revealed that the tanker did not undergo proper maintenance and that its steering mechanism was poorly designed.

The single biggest loss of marine life 

Nobody was injured, and the crew members were rescued, but millions of fish, seabirds, and other marine flora and fauna died when Shell’s entire oil cargo was spilt in the seas. By April, the oil had spread to the Channel Islands, and several European beaches, marshes, seawalls, and rocks were impacted.

Four months after the oil spill, researchers said that it resulted in the biggest loss of marine life ever. Millions of sea urchins, molluscs, fish, and crabs covered with oil washed up on the beaches, a truly heartbreaking sight.

Around 20,000 diving birds died, and the disaster also impacted oyster cultivation. Due to the risk of contamination, about 9000 tonnes went to waste. Other fisheries, the seaweed industry, and tourism were also affected.

Several methods were used to tackle the problem, such as chalk for sinking the oil into the seabed. Others included Pressure washing and removing sediment on the marshes and rocky shores. While rocky formations recovered in the following years, marshes took several decades, and the impact is still felt.

US NOAA revealed that around 100,000 tonnes of water and oil mixture was collected, from which just 20,000 tonnes of oil was procured after processing in oil refineries. 

Legal Battle between France & Amoco

The Government of France, the local community, and the fishermen sued Amoco, the owner of the oil tanker, in the U.S. The damages were worth $250 million U.S. dollars, and the French Government claimed 1.9 billion French francs for the damage and extensive clean-up operations.

Amoco argued that they were not liable to pay for the damage since they were not responsible for the steering failure, which led to the grounding and the oil spillage.

In 1984, an American court held the owning company liable for damages and ruled that Amoco did not undertake proper vessel maintenance and repairs, ensuring its seaworthiness. 

Amoco didn’t appeal against the court’s order and agreed to pay $ 200 million, which was less than half of the amount claimed, after a decade in 1992.

Conclusion

Given its extent and impact on the marine ecosystem, the Amoco Cadiz incident became one of the most well-studied oil spills. This impact is still felt in the salt marshes and beaches with oil layers under the sand.  

It also raised questions about the need for stricter safety measures and operational standards for oil tankers. 

What was truly shocking was that Amoco Cadiz was a new supertanker operated by a reputed company. It highlighted the lack of regulations for tankers plying under flags of convenience, which is still a problem today.

The incident led to many environmental groups and agencies calling for strict policies and plans for tackling oil spills in the future. It also led to the implementation of the Polmar Plan in France, which established a framework to be followed in case of such marine accidents.

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About Author

Zahra is an alumna of Miranda House, University of Delhi. She is an avid writer, possessing immaculate research and editing skills. Author of several academic papers, she has also worked as a freelance writer, producing many technical, creative and marketing pieces. A true aesthete at heart, she loves books a little more than anything else.

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