The Portuguese oil tanker the Aragon, transporting 235,000 tonnes
of crude oil, was en route from Spain to Mexico. In bad weather
conditions on 26 December, she suffered a number of technical difficulties
due to damage to her propulsion equipment (propeller and rudder).
On 29 December, a rupture in tank n°1 in the hull caused the
spillage of 25,000 tonnes of oil. The tank was temporarily sealed
by divers, and the tanker was towed to Tenerife to unload the remains
of the cargo.
Three weeks after the accident, the pollution arrived on the Portuguese island of Porto Santo, thus contaminating a popular tourist beach. The Portuguese authorities asked for Task Force's help, a European antipollution organisation created in 1987. This squad is composed essentially of experts from the public services of the European countries, and can be called upon through the European Commission when accidental pollution occurs. All the members of Task Force have experienced this kind of emergency situation and are particularly well-equipped to provide efficient assistance. The Task Force experts recommended bringing supplementary equipment onto the island, as the equipment available was insufficient for the task in hand. Equipment was transported by plane to Porto Santo from France, Denmark, Germany and the United Kingdom.
The recovery operation was only implemented from the coastline, as bad weather conditions prevented any intervention at sea. Bulldozers, tipper trucks and beach cleaners cleaned the beaches with great efficiency. The amount of oil recovered was estimated at nearly 10,000 m³.
Manual recovery (source: Cedre)
The auto-cleaning ability of the beaches due to wave action eliminated
the majority of the oil. Dispersants and high-pressure hot water
were also highly efficient in the cleaning of the rocks on the coast.
The efficiency of the clean-up teams helped avoid an ecological disaster. Only a small quantity of oil reached the rocky shores of Madeira and the desert islands. These islands are sparsely populated but are the home of fragile species like the monk seal which is an endangered species, and colonies of sea birds which are generally the first affected by pollution.
Date: 29 December 1989
Accident area: 33 miles off Madeira island, Portugal
Cause of spill: damage to ship
Quantity transported: 235,000 tonnes
Type of pollutant: Mexican crude oil
Quantity spilled: 25,000 tonnes
Ship type: oil tanker
Date built: 1975
Last update: April 2006