The aim of this paper is to make a comparison between two major accidents involving Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) that affected the French coastline: the ERIKA spill in 1999 and Prestige in 2002.

The authors will analyse response techniques, strategies and organizational frameworks.

When the ERIKA sank in December 1999, 70 km off the French western coast, spilling 20,000 tons of heavy fuel oil, the French government had to face an unexpected major event that changed our way of dealing with a Tier 3 incident. As a technical adviser, Cedre knew that accidents occurring abroad (NAKHODKA, SEA EMPRESS, …) underlined the possibilities of recovering oil at sea not only as an argument or as a pretence of explaining expenses to the public, but as an efficient tool. Means and results were modest but significant when taking into account the sea conditions. Drifting predictions, organization of the recovery on the shore line and communication also had to be adapted when the crisis calmed down.

PRESTIGE sank three years later with the same persistent product but a larger amount of HFO (70,000 tons). In the ERIKA lessons conference in Brest in 2002, “What if the ERIKA has sunk off the coast of Galicia” a similar scenario has already been considered.

Our paper describes the various steps of the response to these two incidents in terms of early response, response at sea by specialized vessels and by fishing vessels, aerial surveillance (specialized aircraft, satellites), analysis of drifting models results, communication, data management of the recovery (at sea and on the shore line) use of GIS, international relationships, state organizations, R&D …

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