Ship carrying 'dangerous chemicals' sinks off French coast

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The Independent Online

An Italian cargo ship carrying 6,000 tonnes of toxic chemicals has sunk northwest of the Channel Islands according the port authority of the English Channel and the North Sea.

An Italian cargo ship carrying 6,000 tonnes of toxic chemicals has sunk northwest of the Channel Islands according the port authority of the English Channel and the North Sea.

The tanker, which is carrying 6,000 metric tons of chemical products, had sent out distress signals off the coast of France as gale-force winds lashed the Atlantic coast. A helicopter and rescue tug had been sent to the aid of the stricken vessel but it was unable to make port before sinking.

The wrecked ship was being towed into France when it sank. Its crew had already been airlifted to safety and it is now thought to be lying intact on the sea bed.

The boat was carrying 4,000 tonnes of styrene, plus isopropyl and methyl ethyl ketone. It was not immediately known whether the accident constituted an environmental threat. Airplanes and other boats were sent to survey the area for possible spills.

"We hoped the hull would hold out until its arrival in Cherbourg," Olivier Lajous, a spokesman for France's national maritime service, told France-Info radio. "Unfortunately, without a doubt a partition must have broken and the boat filled up. It's in the process of sinking."

Lajous said there were very strong currents in the area of the ship that would make efforts by dive teams difficult. He said the vessel was about 60 to 80 meters (198 to 264 feet) below the surface.

France is still reeling from a massive oil spill last December that polluted much of the Atlantic coast's picturesque beaches and craggy coastline. Then, a Maltese-registered tanker, the "Erika", split in two off the northwest coast, releasing tons of foul-smelling oil into the sea.

Fierce gales of up to 150 kilometers per hour (93 mph) swept much of northern France on Monday, killing four people and causing widespread disruption to rail, air and sea travel.

The tanker sank off Alderney, the northernmost of the Channel Islands, which are located off France's northwestern tip.

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