Amoco Cadiz Oil Spill

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The Amoco Cadiz Oil Spill is known as “”one of the most studied oil spills in history”” (Cyert & March, 1963). On March 16, 1978, the oil tanker Amoco Cadiz suffered a failure in the steering mechanism, resulting in the largest oil spill of its kind to date. The tanker ran aground on Portsall Rocks, five kilometers off the coast of Brittany, France, and was recorded to have released 220,000 tons of Saudi Arabian and Iranian Crude Oil, unrefined petroleum that is naturally occurring and found in the geographical formations beneath the Earth’s surface (Willings & Howard, 2000).

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Built in the Spanish shipbuilding yard of Astilleros Espanoles, the Amoco Cadiz was manufactured in 1975 and was in operation for approximately three years prior to this incident (Field, 2006). The tanker was on route from the Persian Gulf to Rotterdam, transporting thousands of tons of crude oil, when it encountered a fierce winter storm. The vessel was hit by a heavy wave which damaged the steerage equipment, and after many attempts made by the crew to repair the rudder, it was unsuccessful in regaining its maneuvering ability (Marray, 2017). As the Amoco Cadiz drifted uncontrollably, many ships responded to its distress calls, but it was of no use, the winds were too strong and the sea was too rough. Twelve hours later, the Amoco Cadiz ran aground, which ripped open the hull and flooded the engine room. The vessel ran aground a second time shortly after, tearing open the cargo tank and releasing a quarter of the total 220,000 tons of crude oil it was carrying into the water. The following morning the captain and the remaining officer were evacuated off the tanker. Around ten a.m., the Amoco Cadiz broke in two and the remaining 55,000 tons of oil spilled into the English Channel (Palmiter, 2003). Over the following days the storm continued, eventually sinking the tanker. The wreck of the Cadiz later had to be completely destroyed by using depth charges set by the French Navy (Johning & White, 1981).

Due to the rough seas, cleanup efforts were hindered for many weeks following the incident (Frane, 2007). Devastating scenes showed marine life left to die under a film of oil while 1,400 volunteers and members of the armed forces got to work cleaning up rocks, beaches, and creeks (Conan, 1988). The beach clean up was successfully carried out in two stages, the pumping of still liquid oil, and the removal of boiled waste. This oil spill took out everything in its path. Animal and plant populations were dying in vast numbers, making it one of the biggest environmental disasters known to man. Shellfish and oyster fishermen were economically affected for the worse once the majority of marine life began showing symptoms of health damage (Ryan & Hoisin, 1998). This oil polluted approximately 321 kilometers of Brittany coastline, two-shelled mollusks, arthropods, and plants belonging to the Cayenne Jasmine family were completely destroyed, and besides the fact that there was a high probability of these life-forms repopulating after a period of five years, many non-native life-forms replaced those that were native.

The French government took legal action against the Amika International Oil Company, which was responsible, presenting claims totaling two billion American dollars to the United States courts. In the end, France was awarded 120 million dollars from the American oil company; but, payment did not take place until 1990, twelve years after the initial filing (Anderson, 2012). Aside from this, no legislation was passed.

Chemical byproducts that were leaked during this oil spill contained many known toxins. When the spillage occured, it affected the surrounding area in a number of ways, from the chemical toxicity to the literal smothering of wildlife (“”How Oil Harms,”” 2018). Oils that are especially heavy can completely cover animals and suffocate them and the poisonous chemicals can be absorbed through their skin. Also, when heavy oils came into contact with the feathers of a bird, the bird was most likely to die of hypothermia due to the fact that they would lose the ability to retain heat. Since most oils float, some of the animals most likely to be harmed by oil spills in the water are seabirds and sea otters (“”How Do Oil Spills Harm,”” 2006). Had enough oil residue polluted the water, the bird and seal populations could decrease immensely, and new diseases could be an outcome due to the toxins that would be released (Frane, 2007).

The Amoco Cadiz Oil Spill is still known as the greatest environmental disaster of its time; and as a result, the French government set up measures to reduce the risk of accidents and to ensure better rescue and response methods (Jameston, 2008). The environmental impact of the Amoco Cadiz is still remembered to this day.

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Amoco Cadiz Oil Spill. (2020, Jan 08). Retrieved from