1984 - Mont Louis

Year 1984
Vessel Mont Louis
Location Off Belgian Coast
Cargo type Package
Chemicals URANIUM HEXAFLUORIDE

Summary

On August 25, 1984, the French ro-ro ship Mont Louis, bound for Riga, Latvia, collided with the car ferry Olan Brittania off the Belgian coast. The Mont Louis carried, among her cargo, 30 cylinders, each of which contained 15 tons of solid nuclear fuel uranium hexafluoride, which had previously been loaded in France. The two ships became interlocked and drifted for several hours towards the shore. After the Mont Louis became separated, she sank in international waters at a depth of 15 metres and was partly exposed during low tide.

Under the IMDG Code, uranium hexafluoride belongs to Class 7 (radioactive) and has a subsidiary risk of corrosivity. Apart from the radioactivity hazard, uranium hexafluoride, particularly in liquid form, reacts with water to form uranyl fluoride and hydrogen fluoride which is highly corrosive and toxic. Hydrogen fluoride is highly soluble, forming a solution of hydrogen fluoride gas in water also known as hydrofluoric acid.

Narrative

On August 25, 1984, the French ro-ro ship Mont Louis, bound for Riga, Latvia, collided with the car ferry Olan Brittania off the Belgian coast. The Mont Louis carried, among her cargo, 30 cylinders, each of which contained 15 tons of solid nuclear fuel uranium hexafluoride, which had previously been loaded in France. The two ships became interlocked and drifted for several hours towards the shore. After the Mont Louis became separated, she sank in international waters at a depth of 15 metres and was partly exposed during low tide.

Under the IMDG Code, uranium hexafluoride belongs to Class 7 (radioactive) and has a subsidiary risk of corrosivity. Apart from the radioactivity hazard, uranium hexafluoride, particularly in liquid form, reacts with water to form uranyl fluoride and hydrogen fluoride which is highly corrosive and toxic. Hydrogen fluoride is highly soluble, forming a solution of hydrogen fluoride gas in water also known as hydrofluoric acid.

Resume

The French company which chartered the vessel contracted the Dutch salvage company, Smit Tak International, to salvage the cargo. The hull of the Mont Louis was cut open and, with some difficulties, the position of the cargo within the hull located. The operation for the complete recovery of the 30 cylinders took 40 days since the work had to be interrupted several times during the course of the recovery operation due to inclement weather, whilst the complexity of the operation when cutting the hull and searching for the cargo in the holds also contributed to the length of the operation. The cylinders were found to be unaffected by the accident and no pollution occurred.

The Belgian authorities kept the operations under close observation. One of the difficulties experienced by the authorities was in obtaining the correct information on the cargo from the ship's crew and French authorities. It was also difficult to obtain a full description of the risks and hazards of the cargo.

Another problem encountered by the authorities was the public relations' aspect. Statements made by ill-informed specialists caused considerable confusion and the news reports were often inaccurate. As a result, much time and effort was spent to counter the wrong information given, whilst handling the media was time-consuming and at time demanding.

last modified 2020-12-09T12:11:33+00:00