Firm Agrees To Pay For Oil Spill

Volunteers clear a beach at Quiberon, Brittany after the oil spill from the tanker Erika
The Franco-Belgian oil company TotalFina offered to pay 40 million francs ($6 million) Thursday to help with the massive cleanup on France's western coast of the oil spilled two weeks ago from a tanker the company had hired.

Thierry Desmarest, the chairman of TotalFina who has been soundly criticized in France for failing to offer earlier to contribute to the massive cleanup efforts, announced the sum following a meeting with French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in Paris on Thursday.

On Dec. 12th, the 24-year-old tanker Erika poured 3 million gallons of oil into the Atlantic when it split in two and then sank into the waves. It was carrying refined heavy oil from Rotterdam, Netherlands, to Leghorn, Italy.

The funds made available by TotalFina will be used primarily for storage equipment for the collected oil and for material to cleaning up the spill and dispose of the waste.

TotalFina will also contribute to efforts to pump the oil from the ocean. Part of the spill is still floating around at sea, while most of it has begun to wash up on a wide stretch of coastal islands and beaches in western France.

TotalFina on Thursday estimated the cost of pumping the oil from the Erika at 400 million francs ($60 million).

Fierce winds from storms earlier this week have helped push the patches of oil southward toward the Ile de Re and Saint-Clement-des-Baleines, just south of Brittany.

The seaside resorts of La Baule and Guerande both canceled their new year's festivities because of the oil spill.

Some areas had relief on Thursday. The Finistere region hasn't had any new oil wash up for the past three days, the local police department said. Only small amounts of new oil washed up in Loire-Atlantique, authorities said.

The Erika is being monitored constantly. A submarine was expected Thursday night to determine, with a remote-controlled robot, what remains inside the tanker and how to get it out of the vessel.

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