Coastguards said severe fog was making it extremely difficult to undertake any salvage or anti-pollution work
Race to stop eco-disaster
11.25AM GMT, 15 Dec 2002
A race against time is underway in the English Channel to prevent environmental devastation, after a ship sank following a collision with another vessel.
Strong winds and thick fog are hampering the salvage operation as the crews of both vessels involved are being questioned by investigators.
The Tricolor, a Norwegian-registered car carrier, had 30 million worth of luxury cars - 2862 BMWs, Volvos and Saabs on board bound for British and US showrooms when it sank.
It collided with a container ship in bad weather 30 miles east of Ramsgate, Kent.
The crew of 24 scrambled into lifeboats as the 50,000-ton, 200-metre ship went down within 90 minutes of the collision at 1.30am.
The men were taken to Dunkirk but were not thought to be injured.
Per Ronnevig, spokesman for the carrier's owner Wilhelmsen Lines, said the Tricolor had picked up its cargo in Zeebrugge, Belgium, and was on its way to Southampton to unload some of the cargo, before continuing on its journey to the US.
Also on board the Tricolor were 77 other cargo units, which mainly consisted of tractors and crane parts.
The ship itself was estimated to be worth £25.1 million with the cargo valued at between £25m and £31m.
A spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said counter pollution teams were on their way to the scene with equipment designed to minimise environmental damage from the 2000 tons of fuel oil on board.
But the severe fog was making it extremely difficult to undertake any salvage or anti-pollution work, he said.
"The problem is the fog hasn't let up and it's still very thick there. That's making it incredibly difficult, particularly in the failing light, to pick up anything from the surface," he said.
The spokesman said without knowing what was possible to recover from the sea surface it was impossible to tell what could be done for the ship and cargo underwater.
The owners have appointed the highly regarded Dutch company Smit Tak as salvage agents for the operation and a Belgian warship, the Wandelaar, was acting as on-scene co-ordinator for the French Coastguard.
The container ship Kariba, which was said to be severely damaged in the collision, is a 175-metre, 20,829-ton cargo vessel.
The Kariba was carrying containers and was on its way from Antwerp to Le Havre, in France. After the incident it was limping back to Antwerp for damage inspection.
The pollution experts were hoping to erect a barrier around the wreck but this operation and the investigation into the accident were both stalled by the fog.
Shipping in the area, though, was expected to continue as normal, the French Coastguard said.