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 Lykes Liberator

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SpillsLykes Liberator

On Saturday 2 February 2002, the container ship the Lykes Liberator, sailing from Bremerhaven (Germany) to Charleston (USA) with 3000 containers onboard, reported the loss of 60 containers in rough sea, 120 nautical miles west of Sein island. One of the containers held products classified as dangerous. It was a 40 foot open container (ie. a simple metal structure, without roof nor sides).

The Préfecture Maritime for the Atlantic immediately addressed risk matters as regard maritime traffic (drifting containers endanger passing-by ships), as well as the risks for the environment and possibly for human lives. On the very same day, a French Navy spotter plane located a yellow tank in the relevant area. The observation is confirmed the following day.

Citerne à la dérive. Source Cedre
A drifting tank (Source: Cedre)

Cedre was requested by the French Navy to assess the fate of the tanks at sea, and called on the services of Météo France. According to their 5 day drift forecast, the tanks should have reached Ushant Traffic Separation Scheme by 5 February and the English Channel one or two days later.

On 5 February, the Préfecture Maritime required a risk assessment of the impact on human health and the environment, should the tanks strand on the shore. The information sent by the ship on the content of the drifting tanks was vague. The reference given was that of a class of chemical catalysts, aluminium alkyds, not that of a particular product. The risk to human health is roughly assessed (risk of explosion) but not the risk for the environment.


Towing the 3 tanks towards Brest (Source: Cedre)


On 7 February, the emergency response team received a copy of the container manifest. Albemarle Europe Sprl Co (Leuwen, Belgium), the supplier of the chemicals, was immediately contacted and was able to provide further information. The tanks floated because they were empty. But they were closed and may have still contain a few to a few tens of litres of chemicals, and vapours.

Name: Lykes Liberator

Date: 2 February 2002

Location: France


Accident area : off the coast of Finistère

Cause of spill : damage to ship

Quantity transported : 3,000 containers

Type of pollutants : aluminium diethyl iodide, zinc diethyl iodide and various other products

Quantity spilled : 60 containers

Ship type : container ship

Flag : American




The chemicals were catalysts used in synthetic rubber, cosmetics and the pharmaceutical industry. Two tanks contained aluminium diethyl iodide, the third one contained toluene diethyl zinc. Both products react when in contact with water (heat release), ignite spontaneously when in contact with air, and are known to cause serious burns. The supplier reacted quickly and responsibly, and provided the very same day detailed information on the tanks, and the risks and precautions to be taken. The supplier's emergency response centre was made available to the French authorities.

On Friday 8 February, a tank was located close to the Ushant Traffic Separation Scheme. The Préfecture Maritime decided to launch recovery operations the following day.

On Saturday 9 February, the tug the Abeille Flandre was sent on site to mark out the tank's position. The support ship the Alcyon took them in tow towards Brest's harbour where they were delivered to Albermale Co's security administrator the next day.

Répérage d'une citerne par l'Alcyon. Source Cedre
Répérage d'une citerne par l'Alcyon (Source : Cedre)


There were neither victims nor pollution, but a heavy emergency response workload in harsh conditions was necessary to ensure effective protection of men and the environment.







Last update: April 2002

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