|Photographer:||DDGHANSA [View profile]||Title:||Christos Bitas||Added:||Aug 12, 2017|
|Captured:||October 31, 1978||IMO:||5421948||Hits:||967|
|Photo by late Walter Buzay.
At 1634 on October 12, 1978, the Christos Bitas ran aground on rocks approximately 10 miles off Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire, Wales. After about half of its tanks ruptured, the tanker floated free of the rocks. The master of the vessel requested assistance from Her Majesty's Coast Guard in controlling the spilled oil, and the Christos Bitas continued for Belfast, its planned destination. The tanker was stopped at 52 25 N, 005 40 W at the request of British Petroleum Tanker Company, the owner of the cargo, and H. M. Coast Guard.
The tanker was carrying 257,250 barrels of heavy Iranian crude oil. Approximately 21,990 barrels spilled into the Irish Sea. Nearly all the cargo was offloaded to other vessels, and the Christos Bitas was scuttled in the North Atlantic on October 31, 1978. Oil impacted some beaches in South Wales, as well as on Skomer Island, and the North Devon coast. Dispersants were used throughout the spill response, which lasted until November 13.
Heavy Iranian crude oil has an API gravity of 31.0, and a pour point of -5 degrees F. The resulting oil slick off Milford Haven was approximately 6 miles wide by 10 miles long. Dispersants were used almost immediately, and the combination of the chemicals and the gale-force winds and high seas helped to break up the oil. Oil impacted beaches in St. Bride's Bay, on Skomer Island and from 30 to 40 miles of the North Devon coastline. Approximately 335 tons of emulsified oil and oiled debris were recovered in shoreline cleanup operations.
On the morning of October 13 the vessel was listing heavily and H. M. Coast Guard began rescue operations. A British Petroleum representative arrived on the tanker to assess the situation. He suggested that three tankers would receive oil in offloading operations. Inspections revealed that the vessel was in danger of sinking, and it was decided at a meeting of the owner's agents and representatives from the Greek Embassy, International Tanker Owner's Pollution Federation Ltd. (ITOPF), the Protection and Indemnity (P and I) Club, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and the Nature Conservancy Council, that the ship should be lightered. In the early afternoon of October 13, British Petroleum contracted United Towing Ltd. to conduct salvage operations. The United Towing tug Guardsman began towing the Christos Bitas to a position that would minimize damage if a further release of oil occured. Skimmers and booms were brought to BP's Ocean Terminal at Angle Bay (the incident command post) in preparation for the possible release of oil. The Taurus arrived on scene on October 18 with two Oceanpacks, one Seaskimmer, one Midi-skimmer, and two Komara units.
Pump specialists arrived with High capacity Mohn pumps from Rotterdam in the late afternoon of October 14 for offloading operations. Oil transfer to the Esso York began late that night. By early the next day, the Esso York had received 9,849 barrels of oil. The Christos Bitas was now low in the water with the starboard side of its deck submerged. Air was pumped into intact tanks to make the vessel more buoyant. These efforts failed because the tanks were not airtight. On October 15, the Esso York departed with 13,965 barrels of oil onboard, and the British Dragoon took its place in the offloading operations. The British Dragoon had airtight fittings that were installed on the Christos Bitas. Efforts to maintain air pressure in the tanks were then successful, and the tanker's attitude in the water improved. By the early morning of October 17, the British Dragoon had received 88,935 barrels of oil, and the Christos Bitas was upright in the water. Later that morning the vessels had to separate due to a storm. By October 20, 191,100 barrels of oil had been removed and lightering operations ended two days later. Approximately 7,350 barrels of oil remained on the vessel.
Diving operations were conducted on October 22 and 23 to determine if the Christos Bitas was fit for towing into the Atlantic Ocean to the chosen sinking site. The diving operations suggested that the vessel was not as damaged as had been originally thought. Upon receipt of this information, the owners of the Christos Bitas requested time to consider repairing the tanker. Ultimately, it was decided to tow the vessel to the Atlantic Ocean and sink it. A site 580 miles from the Irish coast was chosen for the sinking, and towing to that point began on October 26. Weather worsened on October 30, and by the next day the tug was having difficulty making headway. The Christos Bitas was in an area considered to be a suitable alternative for a sinking location. The vessel was sunk at 51 22 N, 018 13 W in the afternoon of October 31, approximately 300 miles west of Fastnet Rocks, Ireland.