FEBRUARY 1, 2016 — France appears to have avoided what could have been an environmental disaster. A Smit Salvage team has succeeded in getting a line aboard the drifting car carrier Modern Express, which has been listing heavily.
The crew were evacuated from the vessel last week (see earlier story) and since then it had been drifting towards the French coast, with all French clean-up resources fully prepared to deal with a major pollution incident as earlier efforts to get the vessel under tow failed.Now, though, France 24 and other media report that the vessel is being towed away from the French coast.
The tug "managed to rotate it, to put its nose out to sea and started towing and the convoy is currently headed west at 3 knots " France 24 quotes Commander Louis -Xavier Renaux , spokesman for the Atlantic maritime prefecture, as saying at a press conference in Brest.
The aim is apparently to get the vessel to a safe distance from the French coast in case the towing cable breaks. Five vessels are currently involved in the salvage operation: the French navy frigate Primauguet and its helicopter, two Spanish tugs under charter to Smit, the French tug L'Abeille Bourbon, and an antipollution vessel.
According to authorities, any spill would not be on the scale of the 2002 Prestige disaster as the Modern Express is only carrying some 300 tons of diesel fuel compared to the 50,000 ton cargo of crude carried by the Prestige.
The Prestige disaster is widely seen by the maritime industry as the result of authorities' refusal to allow the ship to be taken to a place of refuge. The European Community a few days ago released new guidelines on places of refuge (PoR), developed jointly with the shipping industry. The guidelines are aimed at avoiding a repeat of the mistakes made during the Prestige incident.
According to French media, the Spanish authorities have agreed to accept Modern Express in Bilbao, and it is set to arrive there Wednesday morning if things go according to plan.
Meanwhile, the marine industry continues to be outraged by a Spanish court's decision to sentence the now 81 year old master of the Prestige, Capt Apostolos Mangouras, to a two year prison term.
Intertanko's comments on that case are particularly worth reading.