On 15 December 2011, despite the strong winds forecast for the coming hours, the Maltese-registered cargo vessel TK Bremen, unladen, left the port of Lorient to anchor in the sheltered waters of Groix Island, before heading to England. The ship had sailed from the Ukraine to Lorient, where it had just unloaded 5,300 tonnes of sunflower meal.
On the night of 15 to 16 December, the vessel, caught in storm Joachim (50-60 knot winds, 5-7 metre waves), attempted to move to a more sheltered area as it was having difficulty holding its anchor. At 00:40, it requested assistance from the maritime rescue coordination centre CROSS Etel. As it was making this move, the vessel grounded on the coast 2 km south of the mouth of the Ria d'Etel.
The general public found it hard to understand why the vessel did not stay in shelter in the port of Lorient but legally the Maritime and Port Authorities could not prohibit it from departing.
Anchor point near Groix Island that the TK Bremen was headed for, and point of grounding on Erdeven beach. © MarineTraffic.com
At around 3 am, the 19 crew members were airlifted off the ship by a French Navy helicopter to the Lann-Bihoué naval air base.
The tug Abeille Bourbon, based in Brest and on standby at Ushant Island during the storm, was sent on site on the morning of the accident.
The French maritime authorities ordered the ship owner to take the necessary measures to eliminate the risks generated by the vessel’s situation.
On 20 December, follow expert advice on the hull's condition, the authorities decided that the vessel would no longer sail and would be broken up on site. This costly operation is set to last several months.
Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, French Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development, Transport and Housing, arrived on site at around midday on 16 December to assess the situation.
The Ria d'Etel is home to around fifty shellfish farms. Bruno Le Maire, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, met with local oyster farmers on Monday 19 December.
On 4 January 2012, the Prefect of the Region of Brittany, accompanied by the Prefect of the Department of Morbihan, visited the deconstruction site.
On the morning of the 16 December, a slick of bunker fuel,1 km long by 5 m wide, was detected. The pollution affected Kerminihy beach in Erdeven, where the vessel was grounded, between Lorient and Quiberon, as well as the Ria d'Etel, oiling the shores of Etel, Belz and Locoal-Mendon to varying extents.
On 29 December, all leisure and professional shellfish harvesting in the Ria d'Etel was temporarily banned by the order of 16/12/2011. This ban was lifted on 19th January 2012 for professionals.
From 16 December, lightering operations were conducted initially by the French Navy, then by the Dutch company Smit working together with Les Abeilles International. Access to the tanks was difficult, and several holes needed to be drilled.
System set up to pump the fuel out of the ship, December 2011. © Cedre.
It is difficult to estimate the exact quantity of pollutant released into the water. Nevertheless, for comparison, the Erika was transporting 31,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil (n°6) while TK Bremen contained a total of less than 200 tonnes of IFO 120 (Intermediate Fuel Oil, 120 cSt at 50°C) and marine diesel.
Just after 3 am, Cedre's duty engineer was alerted by the French maritime authorities. At 5 am, Cedre's response centre was activated and at 5:30 am two engineers were dispatched on site upon request by the Préfecture du Morbihan. A third joined them later in the day.
These 3 experts conducted surveys and advised the authorities on pollution response.
Booms from the Saint-Nazaire Polmar stockpile and the Morbihan fire brigade were deployed in the Ria d'Etel to protect the most sensitive sites in this area classed Natura 2000. SAGEMOR (Société de gestion des ports du Morbihan) booms were also deployed in Etel marina.
Booms deployed in the Ria d'Etel, December 2011. © Cedre.
Over the weekend, on 17 and 18 December, around 200 people from the fire brigade, civil protection and the relevant local authorities cleaned up the bulk of the oil and oiled seaweed at risk of being remobilised at the mouth of the ria and on Erdeven beach. SITA was in charge of collecting, transporting and treating waste recovered on the shoreline.
The response units made up of fire brigade and civil protection personnel were gradually demobilised until the 26 December, when the emergency response command system was lifted.
The event was managed through a Monitoring Committee and a Steering Committee that met regularly under the auspices of the Maritime Prefect and the Prefect of Morbihan.
Reconnaissance surveys were conducted on the coastline and the southern bank of the Etel River to identify and characterise the different areas polluted. An organisation was set up to define, monitor and inspect clean-up sites with the different parties involved, taking into account the health-related, technical and environmental constraints specific to each site.
From 26 December, the ship owner and his insurer contracted Le Floch Dépollution to conduct clean-up operations. The contractor’s teams had previously conducted clean-up on this coastline during the Erika pollution.
In terms of Cedre staff, members of the EPIF team (Pilot Response and Training Team) remained on site at all times to organise the opening, monitoring and closure of clean-up sites. They also took part in field surveys and made recommendations on clean-up techniques. In January, the Director of Cedre visited the site on the 4th, took part in the Monitoring Committee meeting on the 20th and the Steering Committee meeting on the 26th.
Near the vessel, mop nets were laid to recover pollutant in suspension in the water. This technique was also used during the Prestige spill in the Landes area of France on a different pollutant.
Mop nets on the lower foreshore, December 2011. © Cedre.
Surfwashing tests were conducted from 19 to 21 December on Kerminihy beach. This technique involves moving sand down to the lower foreshore to be cleaned by natural wave action. The pollutant placed in suspension through this technique was recovered using mop nets and sorbent booms.
Two surfwashing operations were conducted from 19 to 21 January and 13 to 15 February 2012.
Surfwashing test on 20 December 2011. © Cedre.
From 26 December, final clean-up operations began, directly financed by the ship owner’s insurer. Up to 60 people were mobilised to clean several sections of the Ria d'Etel.
These areas were assessed jointly by LDF, ITOPF, Cedre, the local mayor, the site manager or owner and various stakeholders according to the site.
Following this assessment, Cedre drafted a report specifying the extent of the pollution, the clean-up techniques to be deployed and the degree of clean-up on which the different parties had agreed. The same representatives were later called upon to inspect the sites upon their completion, as the work conducted by LFD progressed.
The areas prioritised were:
- oyster farming areas
- areas used by the general public (beaches, harbours etc.)
- difficult access natural areas.
The clean-up operations at the various sites were completed by mid-March 2012. In total, Cedre contributed to the set-up, monitoring and inspection of 11 sites, for which reports were drawn up.
Dismantling the wreck
Bunker fuel pumping operations were completed on 23 December 2011, to be succeeded by deconstruction operations. The TK Bremen was cut up on site (Kerminihy beach) by the Dutch company Euro Demolition, which was also contracted in 2006 to cut up the Rokia Delmas.
Dismantling operations began on 6 January 2012, by the bow of the vessel, following prior preparation of the site and access routes.
Several companies were contracted for various operations, including some local businesses: SODEPOL (asbestos removal), ALZEO (tank cleaning), Recycleurs Bretons (general cleaning of ship), ACTIS (assessment of impact on Natura 2000 reserve). The company TECNITAS was in charge of the overall coordination of operations.
The teams worked shifts day and night on the site. An enormous 280-tonne crawler crane, delivered in parts on 5 January, cut the wreck up into 10 to 20 tonne sections. There were around 2,000 tonnes of scrap metal to be cut away. The site was monitored by the military police, then the company SGS contracted by the insurer. The company GDE Atlantique based in Lorient, specialised in scrap metal recycling, collected the 1,850 tonnes of steel from the TK Bremen.
On 10 January, patches of oil were observed around the wreck, caused by bunker fuel released as it was being cut up. This fuel oil was contained in the fore part, under the hold, and could not be recovered during pumping.
The dismantling of the ship was completed on 26 January 2012. Sand screening operations around the deconstruction site followed.
From this date, efforts focused on dune rehabilitation, based on the specifications drawn up by ALTHIS for the ship owner. In mid-March 2012, the Prefect for Morbihan and the Maritime Prefect, accompanied by local authorities and site managers, visited the area where they observed that the dune had been restored. The goal – fixed by the French authorities for the ship owner – of restoring the site to its initial condition by 6 April 2012 had been met. The last steering committee meeting was 16th March on Erdeven beach.
The cost of dismantling the wreck and restoring the beach were covered by the Turkish ship owner.
A year after the end of wreck dismantling and site rehabilitation operations, for which the Syndicat mixte du Grand Site Gâvres-Quiberon was given a special award presented by French Environment Minister Delphine Batho, pieces of the ship were still being recovered from the shoreline. This debris, mainly washed up during the spring tides and storms, was generally a few dozen centimeters long, but some pieces were larger, including one section measuring almost 1 m², recovered on 24 January 2013.
As part of the three-year vigilance agreement between the State, the General Council, the commune of Erdeven, the Syndicat Mixte and Blue Atlantique Shipping, the collection of this debris should be the responsibility of the ship owner. However, this agreement has not yet been signed. Meanwhile, the town and the Grand Site Gâvres-Quiberon have had to deploy considerable resources and implement major recovery efforts.
Name: TK Bremen
Accident area: south of the Ria d'Etel, Morbihan
Cause of spill: grounding
Quantity transported: 150 tonnes of IFO 120 and 40 tonnes of Marine Diesel Oil (MDO)
Type of pollutant: IFO 120 / Marine Diesel Oil (MDO)
Ship type: cargo vessel
Date built: 1982
Shipyard: Busan, South Korea
Length: 109 m
Draught: 6.74 m
Owner: Blue Atlantic Shipping Ltd., Malta
Manager: Adriyatik Gemi Isletmeciligi ve Ticaret, Turkey
P&I Club: Skuld
TK Bremen grounded on Erdeven beach, Morbihan, France, December 2011. © Cedre.
Official records of ship movements in the port of Lorient. © Marin'Accueil.
On Monday 19 December, samples of the cargo arrived at Cedre for analysis. They were used as a reference for comparison with samples taken for pollution monitoring purposes.
Samples of shellfish in the Ria d'Etel were taken by Ifremer, the Brest-based laboratory IDHESA (Institut Départemental d'analyses, de conseil et d'expertise en Hygiène alimentaire, Eau et environnement et Santé Animale) and ARS (Regional Health Agency).
Samples received by Cedre for analysis, December 2011. © Cedre.
The President of the Region of Brittany, Jean-Yves Le Drian, decided to file a complaint against persons unknown on 19 December for ecological damage and prejudice to the image of Brittany, and to bring civil proceedings before the court of Brest.
Furthermore, a judicial enquiry into the oil spill has been opened by the high court of Brest. The ship’s captain was presented to the court of Brest on 20 December as an assisted witness. He was heard by the prosecutor Bertrand Leclerc and was released on the 21st. Following his hearing he left for Malta, where he risks 5 years of prison and a 7.5 million euro fine.
On 6 January 2012, the association Robin des Bois filed a complaint "against persons unknown for oil pollution and endangerment" with Brest's high court.
Two enquiries are currently in progress: a nautical enquiry led by Maritime Affairs and a technical enquiry led by Bea mer.
A compensation fund limited to 2.1 million euros was set up by the insurer for professionals and individuals who suffered damages due to the grounding of TK Bremen.
Préfecture maritime de l'Atlantique (in French)
Information on the Bremen incident provided by the French authorities: information, press releases, timeline, photo gallery.
Préfecture du Morbihan (in French)
Mobilisation of State services as part of the response to the TK Bremen incident.
ENVMAR Environnement Marin - Réseau Allegans (in French)
Overview of the legal aspects involved in this maritime incident involving oil pollution.
Clean-up on Kerminihy Beach, December 2011. © Cedre.
Collection of oiled seaweed, December 2011. © Cedre.
Clean-up in a harbour, January 2012. © Cedre.
Dismantling the wreck of the TK Bremen, January 2012. © Cedre.
Last update: 23/04/2014