Treating the wreck

Despite all the operations which may be carried out at the source during a spill, if a vessel cannot be salvaged and sinks, significant quantities of pollutant may remain imprisoned in the wreck. This trapped pollutant is a potential future source of pollution.

For a long time, the prevailing principle was to do nothing, considering this risk of future pollution as a concern for future generations. Fortunately, this attitude has changed over the last few decades and it came to be established that a wreck should not be forgotten once response at sea is finished. Rather, it should be treated as soon as possible in order to reduce the risks of pollution to a minimum.


In 2000, 11,200 tonnes of fuel oil were pumped out of the wreck of the Erika: a world record for the quantity recovered from a sunken vessel in the open sea. This record was later broken in 2004 by the 13,600 tonnes recovered from the wreck of the Prestige, in waters over 3,500 m deep.