1981 - Arges

Year 1981
Vessel Arges
Location Port of Rouen, France
Cargo type Bulk
Chemicals NAPHTHA petroleum

Summary

Since September 7, 1981, the Rumanian tanker "Arges" (length 190 metres, 36,150 tons dwt) had been berthed at a wharf belonging to "Shell Francaise", which forms part of the port complex of Rouen, France. She was discharging 25,413 tons of naphtha using her own pumps. The port complex of Rouen is located on the river Seine (Figure 1), more than 100km upstream, but is subjected to a daily tidal movement twice a day. At the time, from 2.30a.m. onwards, the current was running downstream and at 8.30a.m. the tide would change and run in the upstream direction.

At about 7a.m. on September 10, the duty port officer who at the time was patrolling the area, detected a characteristic odour of naphtha some few hundred metres downstream from where the discharge operation was taking place. He notified the terminal personnel responsible for the offloading operation and investigated on board the vessel and around the area on the river. He did not observe any product on the water surface and noted that the strength of the odour seemed to be reducing. A patrol boat was also sent at 8.15a.m to the area downstream from the discharge area where the odour had been detected by the duty port officer. It must be mentioned that naphtha is a colourless, volatile solvent whose presence on the water surface is not easily seen as with crude oils.

At 8hr.35, just before the arrival of the patrol boat, the duty radio operator at the harbour master's office received two calls, one from the vessel "Eleistria", berthed alongside the SCAC quay at Grand-Couronne, some 1,800 metres downstream from the "Arges" (see Figure 1) and the other from an inland waterway barge tug. The office was informed that there was fire on the water surface of the river.

The river was set ablaze over an area of 3,000 metres long and 100 - 200 metres wide with flames reaching 30 to 40 metres height. The fire was moving upstream in the direction of the "Arges" (since the river flow had now changed its direction due to the tide change).

Narrative

Since September 7, 1981, the Rumanian tanker "Arges" (length 190 metres, 36,150 tons dwt) had been berthed at a wharf belonging to "Shell Francaise", which forms part of the port complex of Rouen, France. She was discharging 25,413 tons of naphtha using her own pumps. The port complex of Rouen is located on the river Seine (Figure 1), more than 100km upstream, but is subjected to a daily tidal movement twice a day. At the time, from 2.30a.m. onwards, the current was running downstream and at 8.30a.m. the tide would change and run in the upstream direction.

At about 7a.m. on September 10, the duty port officer who at the time was patrolling the area, detected a characteristic odour of naphtha some few hundred metres downstream from where the discharge operation was taking place. He notified the terminal personnel responsible for the offloading operation and investigated on board the vessel and around the area on the river. He did not observe any product on the water surface and noted that the strength of the odour seemed to be reducing. A patrol boat was also sent at 8.15a.m to the area downstream from the discharge area where the odour had been detected by the duty port officer. It must be mentioned that naphtha is a colourless, volatile solvent whose presence on the water surface is not easily seen as with crude oils.

At 8hr.35, just before the arrival of the patrol boat, the duty radio operator at the harbour master's office received two calls, one from the vessel "Eleistria", berthed alongside the SCAC quay at Grand-Couronne, some 1,800 metres downstream from the "Arges" (see Figure 1) and the other from an inland waterway barge tug. The office was informed that there was fire on the water surface of the river.

The river was set ablaze over an area of 3,000 metres long and 100 - 200 metres wide with flames reaching 30 to 40 metres height. The fire was moving upstream in the direction of the "Arges" (since the river flow had now changed its direction due to the tide change).

Resume

As soon as the fire alarm was raised, the harbour master's office notified the Fire and Rescue Services and a fire boat and port tugs were sent to the scene. The fire was put out 10 minutes after the alarm was raised but not before it had engulfed two barge tugs which were berthed upstream. One of the barge tugs was towed by a rescue vessel to the dry-docks, the other however, due to current movement upstream, started to move towards the "Arges" and eventually rammed against the hull of the tanker. The concerted effort of the crews of the tanker and the fireboat managed to pull the barge tug away from the tanker, averting a disaster. There were no human casualties since fortunately there was little traffic on the river at the time and a crane driver had the presence of mind to rescue a child and 2 persons using his crane bucket from the blazing barge tug. Damages resulting from the fire were: two tug barges badly burnt and partially destroyed; external paintwork burnt, including some wooden parts and one life boat completely destroyed on the "Eleistria", similar damage was found on the "Arges"; some port equipment burnt, e.g. wooden fenders.

Claims for damages were then made against the ship. However, the ship was found not to be gas-free, making her a considerable risk to the local population residing in the vicinity. The gas-inert operation was considered to be dangerous if carried out in port. Contrary to the regular French procedure, which does not allow a ship having pending claims against it to proceed outside a harbour, the authorities allowed the ship to anchor at the entrance of the river until her creditors had been satisfied.

Post-investigation concluded that the spill probably occurred during the early hours, most likely as a result of a loose valve in the pumping system, possibly in the pumping lines used for the lower part of the tanks which are used for stripping the tanks. Thus, while the ship's pumps fed the storage tanks of the terminal which were starboard side, a substantial quantity of cargo was being release aft on the port side of the vessel, on the opposite side of the wharf. With the current running downstream, the naphtha was carried away from the point of release. This explains why the port officer did not detect a strong odour on the vessel or on the wharf. With a sufficient concentration to reach the lower explosive limit, the naphtha caught fire when it came in contact with a source of ignition. The investigation also showed that had the port officers been equipped with portable detection apparatus, the accident could have been avoided. Measures have now been taken to provide port officers with this equipment in their cars. Buoys moored alongside the refinery have also had equipment for detecting hydrocarbons in air installed.

last modified 2020-12-09T12:12:09+00:00