French ships head to Mediterranean to minimize impact of oil spill near Corsica coast

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French officials were racing Saturday to minimize the environmental impact of an oil spill approaching eastern Corsica, with two navy boats armed with clean-up equipment heading to the Mediterranean island.

“We fear that part of this pollution will reach the Corsican coast today,” maritime official Christine Ribbe told AFP.

Two naval ships, equipped with “anti-pollution material and specialized staff,” were steaming to Corsica from their base in Toulon, southern France.

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Some 80 members of the security forces and rescue services are also being drafted in to aid with the clean-up if the oil reaches the coast, local authorities said.

The heavy-grade oil, which appears to have leaked from a ship, was first detected around midday on Friday during a surveillance operation by the local airbase.

By Saturday, officials had detected two large slicks stretching over 19 nautical miles (35 kilometers), one 800 meters offshore, the other 3.5 kilometers.

“Surveillance by plane and helicopter mid-morning Saturday allowed us to locate several scattered slicks, some of which are approaching the coast,” Ribbe said.

The oil is approaching Corsica’s Aleria coastline, a 40-kilometer strip of sandy beaches. Local authorities urged residents to stay away from the beaches on Saturday and banned fishing in the area.

Francis Giudici, mayor of Ghisonaccia, where the beach has been closed, told AFP “I’m very concerned. There’s also a lot of anger.” “We really don’t need this at the start of the (holiday) season.”

France’s Ecological Transition Minister Barbara Pompili and Minister for the Sea Annick Girardin were both due to visit the area later Saturday.

Prosecutor Dominique Laurens told AFP that France’s maritime gendarmerie had opened an investigation into the spill.

“An analysis of maritime traffic in the area is under way,” she said, and the polluting vessel would be identified.

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