“Grande America”, the prosecutor of Brest investigates

Genoa - The Grimaldi Group: “Fire from a container.” The French Prime Minister: “We follow the developments with much, much, much attention”

Genoa - The first black spots are expected on the beaches of the Charente Maritime between Sunday and Monday. Then it could be a matter of days. All or almost the coast of the Bay of Biscay, from Southern Brittany to the Gironde, is threatened “in more or less short term, in the coming weeks, based on winds and currents”. The sinking of the “Grande America” forces Brittany and France to come to terms with a new environmental crisis. Vigipol, the trade union for the protection of the Breton coast born after the disaster in 1978 of the Amoco Cadiz tanker, is preparing to manage the damage in the long run. “It is probable that, due to the effect of the pressure, the tanks will break and release hydrocarbons over time”.

The immediate damage are instead the large hydrocarbon spots adrift in the French Atlantic. On Thursday the Falcon 50 of the French Navy spotted two near the shipwreck site, about 315 kilometers west of La Rochelle. “The first with a compact appearance - the Atlantic Prefecture reported - is 13 kilometers long and 7 wide.” The second, “9 kilometers long and 7 wide, has the most fragmented aspect.” Flying over the area, yesterday morning the Falcon 50 spotted a third “compact, 4.5 kilometers long and 500 meters wide.”

The commander and crew of the “Grande America”, 26 people in all, are from Monday in a hotel in Brest, in Brittany, at the disposal of the prosecutor’s office that launched an investigation.

On Sunday evening they had just managed to tame a fire that exploded on a truck in the lower deck of the ship when, around eight o’clock, the general command of the port authorities of Rome gave the alarm to the French authorities. A second fire, apparently erupted from a container on the bridge, had forced the ship to stop. The crew and the passenger were rescued on one of the two lances on the ship. The ship was not saved. The “Abeille Bourbon” tugboat, which arrived around ten o’clock on Monday morning to put out the flames, gave up within a few hours. At three-twenty-six on Tuesday afternoon, the “Great America” sank 4,600 meters.

It was a con-ro ship, hybrid between container and ferry, built by Fincantieri in 1997 for the Grimaldi Group. Traveling from Hamburg to Casablanca, it was transporting 2,210 vehicles and 365 70% containers on the upper deck. On the coasts of Brittany we prepare for the worst. “They will wander the sea before coming to beach on our beaches,” writes Vigipol.

The French government has started operations to pump fuel from the ocean. “We are following developments very, very, very carefully,” said French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

The Grimaldi Group entrusted Ardent, the salvage multinational company, to send the Union Lynx ship to the site for the recovery of containers and fuel. “A group of experts in the field of maritime accidents - the Italian company writes in a note - is already in Brest to monitor the environmental situation”.

Robin des Bois, a French non-governmental environmental protection association, recalled in a note that “Gande America” had been subject to repeated checks. The Equasis database, of the European Maritime Safety Agency, reports forty from 1998 to the present. Like the control of Tilbury, in the United Kingdom, when in 2010 the inspectors stopped Great America for nine days after having listed 35 weak points of the ship, 14 of which in the anti-fire measures.

“You can’t connect what happened to a fact from ten years ago,” is the Grimaldi Group reply. Such inspections are the practice. They control us, they tell us what is wrong, and we correct immediately. Otherwise we could not navigate ».

The cause, according to Vigipol, is to be found in the fire risks associated with container transport. The Breton trade union has counted 59 explosions and fires aboard container carriers since 2015. The International Maritime Organization limits the transport of dangerous material with restrictive rules. The Grimaldi Group declares that for years it has set even more restrictive rules. «We had never had a sinking in 75 years of activity. This is an enormous economic and image damage for us ».

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