31st January 2006

Guernsey lifeboat performs a chemical tanker rescue

The St Peter Port lifeboat and the Lee-on-Solent lifeguard worked together to rescue 22 crew from two ships – a chemical tanker and a bulk carrier – that had collided in the Channel. The ships had struck one another 30 miles north west of Guernsey at 2am, leaving one of them – the Ece – listing and at risk of sinking, complete with its cargo of 10,000 tonnes of phosphoric acid.

Fortunately, phosphoric acid sounds a lot more harmful than it actually is. It’s very weak, non-toxic and non-flammable. Although it is used in fertiliser and cleaning products, it is also a key component of water treatment and is frequently eaten as a food additive.

A second danger

This was just as well as the French-owned Ece couldn’t be recovered. The French coastguard attached it to a tug in an attempt to take it back to Le Havre for repair, but the day after the collision it sank at a depth of 70m. Its entire cargo of phosphoric acid, which had been destined for Ghent, was lost. Although there were some initial reports that the acid had started leaking from the moment the collision occurred, later analysis suggested this was not the case. Although the Ece sustained a 5m gash below the waterline it wasn’t through to the cargo containers. Of more concern was what would happen to the ship’s fuel if it started to break up underwater.

The other ship was the General Grot-Rowecki, owned by Polska Zegluga Morska (Polish Sea Shipping), which continued to the port of Police in Poland, with its own cargo of 26,000 tonnes of phosphorus still in tact.

The General Grot-Rowecki had only been lightly  damaged in the collision but, as the BBC reported, had failed several safety checks in the years running up to the event, and collided with a 20,700 tonne Swedish passenger ferry, leaving both in need of repairs.


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Other events that occured in January