On 6 May 1978, the oil tanker Eleni V was sailing in thick fog from Rotterdam to Grangemouth with a load of 12,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil. The French bulk carrier Roseline ran into her about 10 km off Norfolk coast in the North Sea. The bow section of the Eleni V was pierced, releasing about 3,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, and then the 2,000 tonnes contained in the bow were spilled.
The 39 crew members were all rescued by the Roseline, and taken to France before being repatriated to Greece.
The stern was successfully towed to Rotterdam where the remaining cargo was pumped out. It was then sold to Spanish shipbreakers and towed to Santander in July for demolition.
Given the position of the incident, the oil slicks presented a possible hazard for the English and Dutch coasts. The response operations therefore had to be set up rapidly. The main method used for that purpose was dispersant spraying. 11 vessels were involved in the operations. A total of 900 tonnes of dispersants were used. However all the efforts were in vain. Heavy fuel oils, such as those transported in the Eleni V, are characterised by their high viscosity. They cannot be pumped out without being heated and dispersants are almost useless on them.
Oil eventually reached the coast on the night of 7 May, polluting more than 35 km of shoreline near Great Yarmouth. Many areas rich in shellfish and popular tourist beaches were affected. Small amounts of oil also reached the Dutch coasts. Given the ineffectiveness of dispersants on this type of oil, different means had to be used for onshore recovery operations. This involved mainly mechanical techniques such as the use of front-end loaders to scrape off the oil.
This was a very slow process and authorities were worried about the impact on the coming tourist season. Furthermore some rocky areas and some beaches were inaccessible for these vehicles. In these places, manual cleaning was the only solution. Oil was shovelled onto plastic bags for disposal in a designated dumping site.
On another site, a recovery device using a polypropylene rope which the oil adheres to removed about 1,000 tonnes of oil-in–water emulsion. A boom was also used in Southwold harbour to protect the entrance to the river Blythe. This equipment confined 100 tonnes of oil and other debris which were then recovered for disposal in the dumping site.
The bow part of the Eleni V
The forward section drifted away from the collision point and then sank. As oil remained in this part of the vessel, the authorities decided to refloat it and to tow it to a sandbank off Lowestoft where most of the oil was pumped out of the wreck. On 30 May the bow was towed about 45 km off the coast where it was blown up. The remaining oil burned.
Name: Eleni V
Date: 6 May 1978
Location: England, North Sea
Accident area: North Sea, Norfolk coast
Cause of spill: collision
Quantity transported: 12,000 tonnes
Type of pollutant: heavy fuel oil
Quantity spilled: 5,000 tonnes
Ship type: oil tanker
Date built: 1958
Shipyard: John Brown & Co Ltd, Clydebank
Length: 170.39 m
Width: 22.05 m
Draught: 11.89 m
Owner: Gladiole Shipping Corporation of Panama
P&I Club: The United Kingdom Steam Ship Assurance Association Ltd
The total cost of the response operations was £2 million.
This incident caused the authorities to realise that they were not prepared for heavy fuel oil spills, which are extremely difficult to respond to. Their means of dealing with the type of oil in question (dispersants, pumping device) were inadequate because of the viscosity of oil. The same incident with crude oil instead of heavy fuel oil would have been much easier to deal with. They also learnt of the importance of aerial surveillance with trained observers, which helped to forecast arrivals of oil slicks on the coast and hence to take adequate measures to avoid serious damage. Finally, they also had to cope with the problem of finding a place to send recovered oil and oiled debris.
Last update: April 2006