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 Bow Eagle

SpillsBow Eagle

On Monday 26 August 2002, in the middle of the afternoon, the chemical tanker Bow Eagle, on the way from Brazil to Rotterdam, informed the MRCC (Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre) CROSS Jobourg of a breach on her port side, which led to a leak and hence the loss of 200 tonnes of ethyl acetate.

The Préfecture Maritime for the Channel and North sea ordered the intervention of aerial and maritime equipment. It also requested advice from the French Navy analysis laboratory (LASEM) and Cedre about the pollution risks.

Meanwhile, the Préfecture Maritime for the Atlantic was looking for the ship responsible for sinking the trawler Cistude in a nightly collision without stopping to offer assistance, and made the connection between the two incidents. The details of this tragedy, in which four sailors died, will not be described here. The link between the two incidents has now been confirmed, thanks to the confessions of two of the Bow Eagle's crew, and our thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives. This article will only deal with our skills in the domain and the risk of pollution involved, which was thankfully significantly less dramatic.

This was yet another case of a collision between a commercial vessel and a fishing boat, which can unfortunately have dramatic consequences, both in terms of human lives and pollution (see archive entitled Collisions with fishing boats).

Assessment of ethyl acetate (this product will soon be the subject of one of our mini-guides about chemical risks) shows that this is a colourless volatile solvent, which has a perceptible odour, evaporates easily in the air and is moderately water-soluble. This product can be used in many areas such as preparation of varnish, lacquer, ink and diluents and is often used as a substitute for methyl-ethyl-ketone (see the Ievoli Sun archive). It is a highly flammable liquid and its vapours may in certain conditions form explosive combinations with air, and water can help spread such a fire.

Consequently, certain basic precautions had to be taken by the assessment team who were to board the ship, and careful inspection had to be undertaken before allowing the vessel to enter a harbour.

However, there was almost no risk of a marine pollution, a fact established by the GESAMP’s data base (Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection), part of the IMO (International Maritime Organization).

This information was immediately sent to the Préfecture Maritime for the Channel and North sea, and contributed, alongside the possible involvement of the Bow Eagle in the Cistude tragedy, to the Maritime Prefect's decision to stop the vessel entering a French harbour.

On Tuesday 27 August, further information was obtained about the situation in terms of risk of pollution. The ethyl acetate tank leakage had been controlled, by transferring the product to another tank and sealing work was in progress. However the vessel was transporting nine different products, of which two were heavy pollutants (benzene and toluene). There was also a breach in the tank next to the one which had been leaking ethyl acetate, containing cyclohexane. The Préfecture Maritime asked Cedre to send one of their chemists. It was also discovered that the tanker belonged to a highly reputable company, the ODFJELL, the second largest international chemical transport company, insured by the world-class Protection and Indemnity Club.

Cyclohexane is a highly evaporable product, whose vapour is three times denser than air. As a result, a leakage can produce a flammable and irritant gas cloud, which may be blown along the water surface by the wind. This substance can be harmful to aquatic organisms in large spills. The cocktail of chemicals on the vessel was such that an accidental grounding would have been absolutely disastrous (see the Cason case).

On the orders of the Préfecture Maritime, the Bow Eagle was escorted by a coastguard patrol boat towards Dunkirk. It was anchored on the morning of the 28 August in the waiting area as the harbour was not equipped to treat the cargo in safe conditions. An assessment team and law officers boarded the ship. Two crew members confessed to having been aware of the collision, and the shipowner's representative admitted liability. In the middle of the afternoon, the Bow Eagle was authorised to leave the harbour and to make for her destination, Rotterdam.

There was no significant pollution caused by this incident, but rather a large pollution risk, handled with extreme care. This incident raises two points of particular importance:
- chemical tankers transport many different products, and the mixture of these products can pose a serious threat to the environment.
- collisions between fishing boats and merchant ships, which end up too often in the loss of human lives, can also be a source of water pollution.

Name: Bow Eagle

Date: 26 August 2002

Location: France

Accident area : off the coast of Sein island, Finistère

Cause of spill : collision

Type of pollutant : ethyl acetate and cyclohexane

Quantity spilled : 200 tonnes

Ship type : chemical tanker

Date built : 1988

Flag : norwegian

Owner : Odjfell ASA

Characteristics of the vessel
Name Bow Eagle
Owner Odfjell ASA
Flag Norwegian
Ship type Chemical tanker
Date built 1988

GESAMP notation on Ethyl acetate
A: Bioaccumulation and change of flavour of seafood Neither bioaccumulation nor change of flavour of seafood observed
B: Damage to living resources Pratically non-toxic
C: Danger for human health if ingested No risk
D: Danger for human health in case of contact with skin or eyes, or in case of inhalation Non-irritant
E: Damage to shoreline No risk

GESAMP notation on Cyclohexane
A: Bioaccumulation and change of flavour of seafood Neither bioaccumulation nor change of flavour of seafood observed
B: Damage to living resources Moderately toxic
C: Danger for human health if ingested Almost no danger
D: Danger for human health in case of contact with skin or eyes, or in case of inhalation Risk of skin or eye irritation, and lung or percutaneous injuries
E: Damage to shoreline Low impact, beaches remain safe


Last update: June 2011

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