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Oil Disasters Through History: Fifth of Ten

October 4th, 2010

In the days leading up to the 6th month anniversary of the BP deepwater drilling disaster, GRN is highlighting nine previous oil disasters, to give historic context to what the Gulf of Mexico is experiencing, and will experience for years to come.


Irenes Serenade, 1980


The Irenes Serenade oil spill was an environmental disaster of oil in water, and fire on Sfakteria Island. It began when explosions in the forecastle of the tanker started a fire and set the cargo alight on February 23, 1980. The vessel and surrounding water burned for 14 hours, destroying the tanker, all fishing gear on the jetty, and much of the hillside of Sfakteria Island with flames reaching 30 meters. The tanker sank off of Pylos Harbor the following morning. Due to the extended leaking of oil from the sunken tanker, the Greek government used explosives to release the remaining trapped oil nearly a year later. Overall, more than 100,000 tons of oil were released into the bay (close to 30 million gallons).


The clean up of the oil mainly involved booms, skimmers, and physical scooping of the oil. Immediately following the fires, booms were placed at the entrance of Pylos Harbor. Typical of booms, some worked well, while others were less effective due to the strong wind and waves. Many booms were ruined by chafing on the rocks. Skimmers and a sweeping arm off of a coastal tanker were used to collect the free-floating oil. Teams of four to six men were hired to sail along the rocky shores and collect the stranded and sunken oil through scooping. The oil was manually collected off the sandy beaches. Some issues arose when pockets of oil were carried out of the bay and unexpectedly contaminated sandy beaches over 100 km away. Problems also occurred with finding a final disposal sight for the collected oil. Cleaning activities were ongoing for two weeks before the government finally decided on using a mining site at Megalopolis, more than 100 km away from the oil spill location.

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