The night is dark, the wind blows, the sea rumbles: the Amoco Cadiz oil tanker gorged with 227.000 tons of crude oil sloughs up very close to the Breton coasts , causing one of the worst oil spills in history. It was 40 years ago, March 16, 1978. " When we saw this giant there, all lights on, at the beginning we did not even realize ", remembers Jean-Yves Letard , restaurateur for 32 years in Ploudalmézeau, on which depends the small port Finistère of Portsall face which failed the Amoco. The Liberian tanker, recent but poorly maintained, transports to Rotterdam its cargo of crude oil loaded into the Persian Gulf. As the storm rumbled, he suffered a damage bar. After lengthy negotiations with a German tug and several unsuccessful attempts at towing, the Amoco Cadiz ran aground at 22:00, just two kilometers from the rugged coastline of Portsall.
Aboard the 334 meter long monster, 34 men and a woman. They will all be saved, despite the lack of information available to the authorities. " The only indication we had was 'an oil tanker ran aground off Portsall, go see what you can do' ", tells AFP Michel Le Gall, today The 67-year-old former freighter leader aboard the Navy's Super Hornet helicopter arrived first on the scene. " The sea was black, the boat was not visible ", remembers Yves Dagorn, 71 years old, co-pilot of this mission, explaining having spotted the tanker thanks to the lighthouse of the German tugboat. " We had to find where the crew was, if it was not in the sea, in the oil … ". " The lighthouse illuminated the left wing of the Amoco and there, they were all piled one behind the other ", chained Guy Le Nabat, 70, descended on board from the helicopter. " Everyone wanted to be hoisted first ," he recalls.
Heavy silence and apocalypse
After recovering some of the shipwrecked, the Super Hornet, to the maximum of its capacity, is forced to go lay down his passengers, to the surprise of Guy Le Nabat. " It was the first time that I was left like this, in plan.The diver always leaves with his crew ", explains the former Navy, at the time devoid of any means communication with the aircraft. " Suddenly, it was a silence, but a heavy silence, there were crackles, it was cold and then we slipped everywhere because of the oil spray ," recalls he. The Super Hornet, preceded by a second helicopter, will finally recover the last survivors. " The Amoco Cadiz is a natural disaster, but there were no casualties, we managed to save everyone ," says former pilot Dagorn again. [19659002Graduallyincontactwiththerockstheshipbreaksupanditstanksbegintoempty:intheearlymorningwhilethepungentsmellofoilpenetratesintohomesformilesaroundthevisionisapocalyptic" When we saw the consequences … it was dramatic! " recalls Jean-Yves Letard, thirteen years old at the time. " There was fuel everywhere, the birds fell into the water and never came out again, it was abominable ". Driven by winds and currents, the viscous magma defiles some 360 kilometers of coastline, not to mention the thousands of crude slabs scattered far beyond. Between 19,000 and 37,000 birds die.
Thousands of volunteers to clean up the mess of Amoco Cadiz
For three months, 35,000 soldiers and thousands of volunteers from all over the country are tirelessly cleaning up rocks and soiled beaches, draining thousands of waste, first with simple shovels and buckets or slurry farmers. Less than 10% of the oil will be recovered. The rest will evaporate or disperse in the sea with currents and tides. Heavy wastes are progressively evacuated and treated, but the others, less dense, are stored in holes sometimes covered with simple tarpaulins. The 40-year oil spills off the coast of Brittany have produced hundreds of thousands of tons of waste, tens of thousands of which are still in Finistère and the Côtes d'Armor, in more or less tight pits. Robin Hood Association. To the environmental disaster are added the economic consequences of the disaster: 1,300 fishermen stay on land for whole weeks and nearly 7,000 tons of oysters are destroyed. Harvests of seaweed and shellfish are severely affected, as is the tourist season.
The anger of the Britons is strong. Quickly, 90 elected members, led by the former senator-mayor of Ploudalmézeau who died in 2014, Alphonse Arzel, unite in a mixed union, which later became Vigipol and has since been responsible for defending the interests of local authorities in the face of risks arising from maritime transport. At the time, the idea was to attack US justice, despite the reluctance of the French government, the Standard Oil Of Indiana, world oil giant and owner of the Amoco. " It was a little naive, as we said, when we see who we were ," recalls Joseph Patinec, former first deputy Ploudalmézeau. " One of the great victories is that they went hand in hand, and without failing to the end ", he considers.
After 14 years of struggle, the American company is recognized only responsible and must pay the equivalent of 35 million euros to the Breton municipalities and 160 million to the state, which eventually join the action of the mixed union: the principle "polluter pays" is finally applied. The disaster will lead to the gradual introduction of measures to reduce the risk of accidents and to acquire better weapons against the pollution s: a new Polmar plan is adopted, a navigation rail is created off Ouessant, a powerful tug is permanently assigned to assist the ships circulating in this rail, etc. Could the disaster happen again? " No, the tragedy of the Amoco will not be repeated in 2018 ," said AFP the maritime prefect of the Atlantic, Admiral Emmanuel de Oliveira, noting that one " could certainly improve the safety of large vessels ", while the world's shipping traffic continues to increase.