FRANCE | Port de Brest accused of denying refuge to chemtanker

Edited from Lloyd’s List | 2010.10.12

A CHEMTANKER involved in a collision in the English Channel last week had to be towed into military facilities in Brest after being denied access to the commercial port, sources involved in the incident have claimed.

Representatives of Port de Brest were today unavailable to respond to the claim.

If substantiated, the accusation will reawaken the controversy over so-called ports of refuge, highlighted in the Castor, Erika and Prestige cases, which centres on whether ports have a duty to admit ships in trouble, despite the risk of pollution.

Proponents of such a system argue that insisting such ships stay out at sea seriously increases the likelihood of an accident and the risk of more widespread pollution that could cause greater environmental damage than might otherwise have been the case.

V.Ships-managed YM Uranus – laden with 6,000 tonnes of heavy pyrolysis gasoline, which is flammable – collided with 179,420 dwt bulk carrier Hanjin Rizhao on October 8.

The collision occurred about 100 km southwest of the island of Ouessant, off the coast of France’s Brittany region. Turkish-owned YM Uranus was en route from Porto Marghera in Italy to Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

At one stage it was taking on water. But the inflow stopped and the cargo tanks were not breached. Following the evacuation of 13 seafarers on board, it as towed into military facilities at the French port on Saturday.

No pollution is believed to have resulted, but teams from the local government prefecture laid out a floating anti-pollution barrier and divers inspected the hull as a precaution.

“It all unfolded very quickly last Friday and Saturday,” said one person aware of the situation. “The ship was towed to Brest and it ended up in the naval rather than the commercial port. It was a port of refuge issue.

“At the end of the day, the ship is safe. But if the ship could not have been gotten to safety as quickly as possible, then it would have been a different issue. But it is safe and alongside, and the first phase of repair and removal of the cargo is going ahead.”

Some shipping organisations – including tanker owner grouping Intertanko – have recommended that governments should designate ports or anchorages for such purposes on all stretches of coast close to major shipping lanes, with suitable tugs and pollution control equipment at hand in the vicinity.

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