French authorities are rushing to stop an oil spill from reaching the country's west coast after an Italian-registered cargo ship sank in the Bay of Biscay.
Although the government's initial statement only said there had been "dangerous materials" on board the ill-fated Grande America, local officials told French news agency Agence France-Presse that the vessel was leaking oil.
The ship had been en route from Hamburg to Casablanca, carrying 2,000 vehicles and 2,200 tons of fuel, when a fire broke out late Sunday. The 26 crew members and single passenger were forced to abandon ship and were rescued by Britain's Royal Navy.
'Like a cork in a bathtub'
The lifeboat was "bobbing around like a cork in a bathtub," HMS Argyll officer Lieutenant Commander Dave Tetchner was quoted as saying in a news story on the Royal Navy's website.
"The conditions were horrendous — the vessels were rolling at 30 degrees, which made it extremely hairy getting the sailors safely on board," he said.
The drifting ship, still in flames, finally sank on Tuesday about 180 nautical miles (333 kilometers) west of France.
Vice Admiral Jean-Louis Lozier, France's maritime prefect for the Atlantic, said the Italian shipping company Grimaldi Group had been ordered to ensure that no toxic materials reached the French mainland.
Overnight on Wednesday, the French navy reportedly discovered an oil spill several kilometers long. In a statement, Grimaldi has said it was working with French authorities to prevent any damage to the environment.
es/cmk (AFP, dpa)