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French wreck probe finds no big leaks in rear hull

Date: 12-Jan-00
Country: FRANCE

The Triton XL, sent down to the wreck last week to relieve an earlier
robot which got stuck, found only a "very sparse" dribble of hydrocarbon
fuel coming from a bridge hatch at the rear of the wrecked hull and a
trickle of air bubbles in a nearby area, the maritime prefecture said.

However a probe of the front section of the wreck has yet to take place.
The Triton robot was due to begin exploring the bow section of the
tanker Erika as soon as possible, a maritime official said.

Some 300,000 marine birds have been killed or affected by the sticky,
black oil that has washed up along 400 km (250 miles) of the Atlantic
coast after the Maltese-registered Erika broke in two and sank in stormy
seas in mid-December.

Experts have clashed in the days since the devastating oil spill over
whether an estimated 20,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil still inside the
hull could rise to the surface before it can be pumped out later this
year.

While it has been feared that pumping up the remaining oil may not start
for several months, given it is so thick it will need to be heated
first, two salvage firms have said they could start recovering it within
a couple of weeks.

French oil giant TotalFina has pledged 40 million francs ($6.3 million)
in emergency clean-up funds and said it will pay an estimated 400
million francs more to pump the remaining oil cargo from the wreck.

The wreckage lies at a depth of 120 metres (400 feet) about 70 km (44
miles) south of the Brittany coast, under surveillance by the French
navy.

The original robot, Abyssub, managed to explore part of Erika's stern
and record some 11 hours of film before becoming entangled in cables and
getting stuck.

Triton XL, which is equipped with three cameras and two mechanical arms,
took over on January 6.

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Reuters
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