Spill Journal: MV Erika
In this article, Marcus Russell, OSRL Expert, shares his experience responding to the Erika Spill.
With a cargo of 31,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, the tanker Erika, broke in two and sank during a severe storm in the Bay of Biscay, France in December 1999.
Reflections of Marcus Russell
The client first mobilised OSRL, requesting offshore equipment and responders. Language was going to be a barrier, so as French speakers, Lhlee Lofthouse and I made up part of the team of five sent, two to the client's headquarters in Paris and three to Saint Nazaire. After less than nine months with OSRL, I found myself discussing potential offshore response options with Senior French Navy personnel. The continuing storm meant very little could actually be done and we returned home on Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas!
After successfully managing the ‘Millenium Bug’ or Y2K as it was known, and make it into the year 2000, the client again requested OSRL’s assistance in the February to provide shoreline clean up support. I accompanied Dave Salt to survey contaminated beaches and produce an action plan which was accepted. The focus was to provide technical advice, survey sites, produce progress reports and implement principles of site management. We also eventually ended up servicing the many Karcher and Kew high pressure washers in use.
Based on Belle Ille en Mer, a small island off the Brittany coast and the French Department of Loire Atlantique, we were generally working 3 week rotations from March to December 2000. We worked closely with the Securite Civile, Army, Navy and Fire Brigade who were mobilised according to (one of) the French national plans (Polmar Terre) under the direction of the relevant local authorities. Working multiple, remote sites involving hundreds of people meant long days and hard work but also great fun.
Although a small island, the population swelled from 4000 to 40,000 in summer as tourists came to enjoy the many secluded beaches and bays, some of which were still being cleaned! I clearly remember Dotchot plage, the only naturist beach on the island, being the most surveyed site by OSRL! Spending so long in one place, we began to feel like locals to a point where our favourite beverage would be waiting at the bar for us when we returned to the hotel at the end of the day.
Being new to the company at the time, working alone on a major spill was daunting but knowing I had the technical support from the likes of Dave Oland back in Southampton was reassuring and ultimately great experience. My French also improved considerably above my lowly CSE Grade 4 school qualification!