Oil slick heads to French coast after cargo ship sinks

Vessel en route from Germany to Morocco sank 300km off the Atlantic coast after fire on board

An oil slick is expected to reach France in the next few days, after a cargo ship sank in the Atlantic some 200 miles off the coast, authorities said.

The 10km-long, 1km-wide slick is expected to reach land along the Charente-Maritime and Gironde coast on Sunday or Monday.

Four ships have been deployed to contain the oil at sea, environment minister Francois de Rugy said, but he also warned that bad weather is expected to hamper the operation. A clean-up operation is also being hastily arranged on land.

The Grande America was en route from Germany to Morocco when a fire broke out on Sunday. All 27 people on board were evacuated by a British Navy frigate the following day. The ship sank some 300km west of La Rochelle on Tuesday.

As well as 2,200 tonnes of heavy fuel oil for the ship's engines, 365 containers were onboard, "of which 45 are carrying dangerous materials" including hydrochloric acid and sulphuric acid, as well as around 2,000 vehicles. About 40 containers fell into the sea before the ship went down.

The ships owners the environmental risks posed by the chemicals would be 'very localised' and that most would have been destroyed in the fire.

But French environmental campaign group Robin des Bois (Robin Hood) said the group intends to file a complaint at Brest district court over the environmental damage.

Local authorities have opened an investigation and the ship's owner has been warned to "take all necessary measures to contribute to the fight against pollution", Mr Rugy said.

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