On 22 September 1975, the oil tanker the Pacific Colocotronis left Algeria for Wilhemshaven (Germany) with a load of around 72,000 tonnes of light crude oil. On 28 September, the vessel was sailing along the Dutch coasts when the crew heard a concerning noise and oil began to leak. The commanding officer ordered the Pacific Colocotronis to be anchored to check the extent of the damage. The source of the leak came from a fracture on the port side of the vessel. Around 500 tonnes of oil were lost.
The master immediately contacted the tanker’s agents Rijnmond Scheepsagenturen in Rotterdam who notified the authorities of the incident. The Oil Pollution Control official sent two boats on site, the oil combating vessel Smal Agt and the tug boat Holland.
The situation did not appear to be too hazardous and the weather forecast was quite good. It was decided to wait until the following day to start the response operation. However the necessary precautions were taken in case weather conditions would worsen. A dredging firm was asked to keep a ship on stand-by for a sand sinking operation. The Marine Division of the British Department of Trade was contacted as help from a British oil-cleaning vessel might be needed. Fina Nederland BV was contacted for a possible urgent delivery of dispersants. Representatives from the North Sea Directorate, the shipping company and the insurance company were sent aboard the Pacific Colocotronis.
Inspection of the vessel showed a situation far worse than first thought. Two large fractures continued below water level. Response action had to be taken rapidly. Britain was asked to send an oil-cleaning vessel as soon as possible.
On 30 September the Pacific Colocotronis had lost around 1,500 tonnes of oil. The weather forecast announced a change of wind direction from southwest to west-northwest, meaning that oil slicks would be likely to drift towards the Dutch coast. Hence, action had to be taken before this happened.
Two groups of response operations were created. One for an oil-cleaning operation and the other for getting the tanker into port. England was asked to send another vessel. Germany was asked to keep a vessel on stand-by. Possibilities of lightering the cargo of the Pacific Colocotronis were inspected. A number of aerial surveillance flights were made between 29 September and 20 October. Experts decided to use dispersants to fight the oil slick. In total, response vessels sprayed 190 m³ of dispersants on the oil slick.
Later that day the lightering operation began. The port of Ijmuiden authorised the entry of the Pacific Colocotronis on 1st October, provided she sailed in full daylight and that oil combating equipment (booms, oil-cleaning vessel…) was available. This was successfuly implemented.
Name: Pacific Colocotronis
Date: 28 September 1975
Location: Channel / North Sea
Accident area: off Dutch coast
Cause of spill: damage to ship
Quantity transported: 72,227 tonnes
Type of pollutant: light crude oil
Quantity spilled: 1,500 tonnes
Ship type: oil tanker
Date construction: 1975
Length: 248.74 m
Width: 36.58 m
Owner: Rijnmond Scheepsagenturen
P&I Club: West of England Ship Owners Mutual Protection & Indemnity Association
Low ecological impact
Observation from the National Research Institute (RIVO) revealed neither dead organisms in the area nor traces of oil in fish.
The Netherlands Research Institute (NIOZ) sent the research ship Aurelia on site to carry out a number of investigations on sea plankton and to observe birds. These investigations revealed no direct effect of the pollution on the density of plankton. However samples were taken soon after the incident and longer contact with the oil may have caused death. The area had a low bird population especially at that time of the year and very few oiled birds were found.
On 7 October, about one week after completion of clean-up operations, oil arrived on the coast. Beaches between Noodwijk and Heemskerk were hit. However the Institute for Inland Water Management and Waste Water Treatment (RIZA) analysed this oil and found out that it did not match that of the Pacific Colocotronis.
Rijnmond Scheepsagenturen and its Protection & Indemnity club, the West of England Ship Owners Mutual Protection & Indemnity Association, were liable for the pollution. They had subsribed through ITOPF (International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation) to the TOVALOP (Tanker Owners Voluntary Agreement concerning Liability for Oil Pollution). The total compensation paid is unknown but the cost of oil dispersion amounted to between 360,000 and 450,000 euros.
Last update: June 2011