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Monday, April 6, 2009

Amoco Cadiz

The Amoco Cadiz was a VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier), owned by Amoco, that split in two after running aground on Portsall Rocks, three miles (5 km) off the coast of Brittany (France), on March 16, 1978, resulting at that time in the largest oil spill ever, currently the fifth-largest in history (though this ranking may vary depending on criteria).

Sequence of events

En route from the Persian Gulf to Rotterdam, the Netherlands, via a scheduled stop at Lyme Bay, Great Britain, the ship encountered stormy weather with gale conditions and high seas while in the English Channel. At around 09:45 a.m., a heavy wave hit the ship's rudder and it was found that she was no longer responding to the helm. This was due to the shearing of Whitworth thread studs in the Hastie four ram steering gear, built under licence in Spain, causing a loss of hydraulic fluid. Attempts to repair the damage were made but proved unsuccessful. While the message "no longer manoeuvrable" and asking other vessels to stand by was transmitted at 10:20 a.m., no call for tug assistance was issued until 11:20 a.m.

The German tug Pacific responded and contacted the Amoco Cadiz at 11:28 a.m., offering assistance under a Lloyds Open Form (see below). It arrived on the scene at 12:20 p.m., but because of the stormy sea, a tow line was not in place until 2 p.m. and broke off at 4:15 p.m.. Several attempts were made to establish another tow line and the Amoco Cadiz dropped its anchor trying to halt its drift. Finally a successful tow line was in place at 8:55 p.m. Yet these measures proved incapable of preventing the supertanker from drifting towards the coast because of its huge mass and the Force 10 storm winds.

At 9:04 p.m., the Amoco Cadiz hit the bottom for the first time, flooding its engines. It grounded again at 9:39 p.m., this time ripping the hull and starting the oil spill. Its crew was rescued by helicopters of the French Navy at midnight, except the captain and one officer who remained on board until 5:00 the next morning.

At 10 a.m., March 17, the supertanker broke in two, releasing its entire cargo of 1.6 million barrels (250,000 m3). Because of the ongoing storm, it broke again on March 28 and the wreck was later completely destroyed by depth charges from the French Navy.

The wreck of the Amoco Cadiz is located at [show location on an interactive map] 48°36.00′N 04°46.00′W / 48.6°N 4.76667°W / 48.6; -4.76667.

Lloyds Open Form

An argument arose between the captain of the Amoco Cadiz, Pasquale Bardari, and that of the captain of the German Tug Pacific, Hartmut Weinert, on the issue of LOF (Lloyds Open Form). Captain Weinert thought this a classic LOF case, an oil tanker with damage to its steering gear, rough weather and getting closer to the shore by the minute.

Lloyds Open Form is a standard legal document for a proposed salvage operation, a four page long contract published by the famous Lloyds of London. It is called "open" because it is literally open, with no amount of money being stipulated for the salvage job: The sum to be paid is determined later in London by a professional arbitrator. At the top of page one, beneath the title "Salvage Agreement" is a statement of the contract's fundamental premise. "NO CURE - NO PAY!"

The Arbitrator, who is invariably a Queen's Counsel practising at the Admiralty Bar, follows the English law of civil salvage, in determining the salvage award. The values of the ship, its cargo and freight at risk are taken into account when the arbitrator decides what the award should be, together with the extent of the dangers and the difficulty in effecting the salvage. In 1978, the ship and the cargo were valued at about $40 million dollars, so Captain Weinert's company could, in the event of success, have received a large award. Captain Bardari of the Cadiz, on the instructions of his owners, wanted "...towage rate to Lyme Bay."

The argument dragged on from 11:28am when the Pacific first made contact with the Amoco Cadiz until 4:00pm when Captain Bardari finally received approval to accept the LOF from the ship's owners in Chicago. However, this dispute did not delay the salvage operation significantly, because tugging preparations had already started. Captain Weinert was aware that if he were to succeed in bringing the tanker into Lyme Bay, on the English coast, his owners could arrest the ship in the English High Court in pursuit of a claim for salvage.

It was incorrectly reported in the Press at the time that, after long negotiations on financial terms between the ship's captain and the master of a West German tugboat and two unsuccessful towing attempts, the towline finally broke during the argument and the ship drifted on the rocks. This version of events became fixed in the public mind although in fact delay was caused by Captain Bardari of the Amoco Cadiz contacting his owners in Chicago for instructions. The delay in sending a distress message meant that the larger tug Seefalke, which might have been in range an hour earlier, had proceeded out of range by the time the distress call was made.

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