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Prestige: Western defence area

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Initially, the very first arrivals of oil between April and July occurred much later on than in the South-western area and was followed by an intense fine tuning clean-up operation from August to December. In this case there was also a close correlation between the recovery effort put in and the quantities collected per responder per day and amounted to 250 kilos which was almost as much as in the south-western area. But when the situation is regarded from the throughput point of view it becomes clear that the collected quantities were six times less for a longer stretch of coastline which shows that there was much less pollution to collect.


Oil arriving on Donnant beach at Belle-Ile-en-Mer (56) in May 2003. (Source: Cedre)

As expected on account of the number of days oil was found on the beaches it was in Finistere and Côte-d’Armor that the oiling was really very high in this defence area with 1800 and 600 tonnes of oily waste respectively compared with 300 tonnes in each of the five other « départements » that were also oiled. The oily waste recovery rate in these « départements » (more than 400 kg per man par day in Finistere and more than 300 kg per man per day in the Côte-d’Armor) turned the average zone recovery rate into a much higher figure.


Oiling of a stretch of pebble beach, Crumuni. (Plovan) Penhors (29) Oct. 2003. (Source: Cedre)

From May to August when there were repeated arrivals/beachings of oil in this defence area, Finistere was seriously polluted from May to July. The pollution involved sporadic beachings of tarballs and cakes on stretches of coastline ranging from a few hundred yards to several miles with varying frequency and intensity. The geographical area polluted by the Prestige was such that Departmental Polmar plans could have been triggered in addition to zone co-ordination, but the pollution pattern was so variable and random that it was decided to let local teams and authorities deal with the day to day basics.

Organising the response

The Departmental and the Regional Prefects implemented an intermediary solution which was to avoid triggering the Polmar plan ashore and letting local authorities take responsibility for the clean-up but the Prefects would agree to supplies the manpower, machines and materials need for the clean-up in addition to the lorries used for evacuating collected materials and waste treatment facilities. This strategy enabled local authorities to decide on what their individual priorities were, avail themselves of technical advice from Cedre for site assessment, replace municipal personnel by Civil Defence personnel and service companies specialising in pollution clean-up that had negotiated a contract for the job and to recruit clean-up staff based on a contract with the Prefectures via the Community of Communes.


Tonnages and kinds of waste collected in the Western Defence Area in 2003 (click to enlarge)



Personnel employed and waste collected in the Western Defence Area in 2003 (click to enlarge)


Prestige oil covering former spill at La Louve in
Esquibien (29), Oct. 2003. (Source: Cedre)

Response and clean-up operations

With this procedure, response was swift and well suited to local requirements that were defined jointly so as to ensure that the amenities would be ready for the tourist season. This involved:

  • immediate removal of oil on amenity or sensitive beaches
  • final clean-up of sandy or pebble beaches
  • removal of the bulk of the oil by scraping rocks and cobblestones with trowels
  • fine tuning rocky areas or cobblestone beaches located very close to seaside resorts
  • cleaning pebbles and cobblestones of remoter areas to avoid burying in the substrate particularly when the weather is too hot or providing the beaches can be reached easily for the purposes of manual collection.


Manual collection and response by response teams, Tronoen beach (29), in May 2003. (Source: Cedre)

When rocky areas ere hard to reach, the option was to let wave action do the job. With the exception of small townships with very long beaches, sandy beaches were generally reinstated very quickly. The residual problem being that tarballs and micro tarballs were coated with sand that beach cleaners were at a loss to deal with.

Hard substrates were cleaned by scraping (rocks, boulders, pebbles) with trowels, the main objective being to avoid remobilisation and repolluting cleaned beaches.

Treatment of recovered polluted materials

In view of the repeated beachings of oil and the quantities involved and recovered in Aquitaine, the storage, transport and final elimination of recovered waste had to be processed using the just in time procedure. Recovered waste was stored in skips and transported directly to the treatment centres. More often than not, solid waste was disposed of by incineration and depending on whether waste was sandy or non sandy waste, the recovered materials (waste) was treated in one or another of the dedicated treatment centres. By the month of January 2004, the storage facilities were either empty or clean and all recovered materials had been treated. All in all, 15,627 tonnes of pollutant and polluted materials of all kinds were treated in the western Defence area.

Treatment of polluted seaweed

At the start of the summer season, responders had to contend with polluted seaweed washed up on the coastline of Finistere. The main concern was where to store and dry them before final disposal. The heaps of seaweed were uneven quantity wise as some townships only produced a few cubic metres of seaweed whereas others managed to dispose of hundred of cubic metres. The biggest pile of seaweed involved 750 cubic metres of seaweed coated with sand that a company had offered to treat but the cost was too high. Most of the seaweed was treated in situ on the storage site at the beginning of the summer months, namely the sand and seaweed were separated by sieving, laid out and covered with quicklime after which the dried seaweed was sent to the incineration plant. Sand was put back on the beach after being analysed to bolster the rocky stretches of the coastline.


Heap of seaweed containing 60% seaweed, 30% sand and 10% HFO, at Guisseny (29) in Nov. 2003. (Source: Cedre)

Two solutions were reached for the remaining seaweed (heaps from 20 to 250 cu m). Lightly oiled seaweed was stored ashore during the summer and put back in the water when the tide was going back out, which enabled sorting and drying of the seaweed and the tarballs on the foreshore before actually collecting the materials by hand. Heavily oiled seaweed was sent for incineration after being coated with quicklime in a bid to reduce treatment volumes.


Significant oiling of stone blocks and pebbles,
Plage des Dames, Landunvez (29) Oct. 2003
(Source: Cedre)



Last update: April 2004
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